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May 2000 Fire

The Architect, the Rector, the Sr. Warden, and the Lawyer

May 2000 Fire and Rebuild

from Four Perspectives

The Architect: John Cannon

As a newly registered architect, Nancy and I moved to Kirkland in the late 1970s and joined St. John’s in 1980. Back then there was a drive-through entryway at the front door of the church to accommodate hearses for funerals. I remember talking to Fr. Bob Dunn at that entryway asking him if there were any upcoming plans to remodel the church. He told me no, none that he knew of in the future, but that it was in God’s hands. Yes, it was.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the congregation, with vestry approval, embarked upon a remodel called “Project Reaffirmation.“ The church bought the existing building on the corner at 2nd Avenue S and State Street, moved the church offices to that location, and started plans to design a covered entry for the church at the drive-through To avoid any perceived conflict of interest, I suggested hiring another architect, the Buffalo Design Group, to proceed with plans and construction drawings for the new entry. At about that same time, Fr. Dunn was called to be the rector at a parish in southern California. However, we decided to proceed with the project even though the parish would be going through a priest selection process at the same time.

Project Reaffirmation funds were raised, debt was incurred, and the project was finally seen through to completion. Meanwhile, Fr. Donald Mackay from Montana was hired as St. John’s new priest. With faith in a new building reaffirmed, along with a new priest, St. John’s decided to begin looking forward to a new path.

A “Future of St. John’s” committee was formed in early 2000, and started meeting in the spring to discuss what God’s plans were for St. John’s in Kirkland. The committee met on Thursday evening, May 11, 2000. Weary from a two-hour discussion, the committee members started to get up and leave. Quickly, someone reminded the group they had forgotten to conclude the meeting with prayer. The committee members returned to their seats and sat down to pray. Their prayer focused on asking God’s direction for future development for the ministry and church at St. John’s and concluded by asking God to show them a sign.

The very next day – Friday, May 12, 2000 – Marsh Hall, consisting of the preschool and Sunday school classrooms, a nursery, and a chapel, burned to the ground. The fire was started accidentally by a torch being used by a roofer to make repairs to the roof of Marsh Hall. The insulation under the roof caught fire and quickly spread. Marsh Hall was completely destroyed; this included the canopy that connected Marsh Hall to the main sanctuary building. Miraculously, the main roof of the sanctuary did not go up in flames, but the interior suffered minor smoke damage. Ironically, the last name of the roofing contractor who had been hired to do the roof repair was “Firebaugh.”

The Future of St. John’s committee was quickly renamed the “Church Building Committee,” and its first task was to regroup and collect insurance proceeds. The late Jim Anthony, one of the committee members, was the champion of the insurance claim and was assisted by Jim Miller. They were eventually successful in negotiating a good insurance settlement.

The Rector: Fr. Don Mackay

As I look back at my ministry at St. John’s, the memory brings a smile to my face and a warm feeling to my heart. I loved my time there and miss the wonderful Saints who made up the congregation. Friday was my day off, and I will never forget the shock when I received a phone call from the church office telling me that there was a fire at the Church. I asked immediately if all the people were okay and was assured that everyone was out and okay.

As I drove out of my neighborhood just north of Totem Lake, I could clearly see the flames and the tower of smoke billowing into the sky. My heart sank, and once more I thanked God that everyone was safe. When I arrived, the fire department was working hard to get the fire under control and keep it from spreading to the main church building. Prayer was offered with those gathered, and we watched as the fire crew did their job. Bishop Warner came and gave his blessing and promise of the support of the Diocese. We then watched and waited.

One of my dramatic and moving memories was walking into the Sanctuary and seeing, through the lingering smoke and haze, the Altar, unscathed and beautiful, standing as a symbol of faith and a promise of things to come. Miraculously none of the stained-glass windows were broken, and it almost seemed as if everything was fine -- except we knew that it wasn’t.

Once the fire was out and the trucks and crew had gone, the reality of what had happened, and what was needed next, began to sink in. While everyone knew there was a huge challenge ahead of us, there was also an immediate response of faith and hope. We were supported by the Kirkland community, the other faith communities in the area, countless individuals, and the Diocese.

We immediately needed a space for Sunday worship, and we were able to hold the next Sunday services at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center. Though hastily put together, it was a wonderful celebration of faith, hope, and new beginnings. We, as it happened, had 5 baptisms at that service, reminding all of us that a new beginning was not only possible, but was coming for all of us.

One of my other moving memories is of the cleanup after the fire. Some of the areas of Marsh Hall that housed the Sunday school and Preschool, were deemed safe so we could go in and get whatever was salvageable. It was like a war zone with rooms open to the sky and partially burned-out areas. Seeing the children’s coats and other personal belongings, left in haste on their exit, caused a feeling of sadness mixed with gratitude that no one was hurt. Next came the heavy equipment used to demolish the remains of the buildings and haul them away. Sad.

I will be forever grateful for the tremendous effort and hard work of the many members of the congregation who assisted in the logistics of providing what was needed for worship, Sunday school, St John’s Preschool, and all the other things that had to be planned and provided for while we had no buildings available. Once we settled into some semblance of a “normal” routine, and the demolition and cleanup were finished, we began the tasks needed to get to where St John’s is today.

I will give you some brief snippets of things that I remember that I hope will be of interest to you. My apologies in advance if any of the order seems to be off.

I have good memories of the early morning meetings in the construction trailer. We began with prayer, and I think it may have been a first for the contractors. It was great to see beforehand what would become reality. I am so very grateful for the leadership of the members of the congregation who took their role so seriously and gave it high priority. They are too numerous to mention, but we could not have gotten through the process without the late Jim Anthony, the legal assistance of Jim Miller, and the Spirit-guided talent of our architect, John Cannon. I remember John coming to me and sharing his concern about how the architectural design could join in harmony the existing Church structure and the new building. I recall sharing with John my feelings that his unmatched talent, joined with guidance from Spirit, would result in the perfect marriage of the old with the new. The result seen today is seamless and stunning. John, you are a blessing indeed.

There were many hurdles along the way. Not the least of which were the challenges with the insurance! We also realized that we needed to bring all the existing buildings up to code, including rebuilding stairwells, replacing existing sidewalks, and installing fire suppression sprinkler systems. All of these costs were not covered by insurance.

As I stand now and look back at the entire experience, I am filled with joy and pride for a congregation who rose to the challenge and accomplished, with faith, a magnificent conclusion to a task that at times seemed almost insurmountable. Well done Saints of God!! Well done!!!

The Senior Warden: Tony Banks

Greetings to all of you and thanks for the opportunity to share some memories from the fire in May 2000. I remember that I was coming toward the end of my tenure as Senior Warden that year.

On that particular day in May, I remember our son, Richard, was driving down State Street on his way home and noticed flames rising from the Church. By then, State Street had been blocked off with fire trucks and crews. He immediately called me, and he said, “Dad, there’s a huge fire on the St. John’s property. The streets are full of fire engines.” I vaguely remember driving down there and parking several blocks away. I then walked onto the church property and saw firefighters hosing down the fire. Sometime after that, I remember standing around a pile of ashes with Bishop Warner, Fr. Mackay, Earl Payne, and a few others, and the Bishop led us in a prayer.

A few other events come to mind during that time. I remember how blessed we were to have the leadership right there at St. John’s to move us forward. God does provide. Father Mackay was the right spiritual leader for St. John’s at that particular time. Not only did he provide spiritual leadership for the congregation, but he had tremendous administrative skills to appoint people in the parish to help us recover from the fire. Jim Anthony stepped forward to lead and coordinate us through the cleanup and reconstruction of the church. John Cannon was there at the right time to assist with the architecture and planning. Then Jim Miller stepped in with his skills as an attorney to help with the insurance recovery. Bruce Pitts, with his engineering skills, also gave a lot of his time and talent to our recovery. It was so amazing to see how God used the talents of these men and many others in the congregation to not only carry on with daily church activities, but to make personal sacrifices in their lives to accommodate the extra work that had to be done to rebuild.

One other memory I have of that period was how neighboring churches reached out to accommodate our preschool and several other church activities. Out of that came a feeding outreach program. A few of us from St. John’s volunteered to cooperate with the Nazarene Church to take food down to feed the many homeless people living in downtown Seattle.

A year after the fire in 2001, Marcia and I moved to Leavenworth. The memory of the fire is distant from me now, but the memory of a congregation and community coming together in a catastrophic event during our earlier years as members of St. John’s will always be with me.

The Lawer: Jim Miller

Don Mackay mentioned the major challenge with the insurance and bringing the Church up to new code requirements. God (and the insurance company) required everything in writing, so I have well over 100 pages setting forth details.

After the fire, the preschool was demolished, but the existing church building was structurally intact, albeit damaged by smoke and water. The costs to bring the existing Church building and the new construction up to code were $1,243,000. Our total claims, including code upgrades, construction, and contents were $2,576,126.

St. John’s had an insurance policy on the building in addition to the master policy provided by the Diocese for all the churches in the Diocese of Olympia. These two policies were issued by the same insurance company, but since the terms of coverage were different, there were contractual ambiguities on several issues including code upgrade coverage. Washington State law provides that ambiguities should be resolved in favor of the insured (St. John’s) and there were a lot of disagreements with the insurance company on this issue.

The insurance policy limit was $1,767,000. After auditing us and paying just $1,100,000, the insurance company said the claim was paid in full, and they were through with St. John’s. We objected, and by inspiration from God, came up with legal research to support our claims. Specifically, we insisted that since their "payment in full" did not make us whole, we could proceed to claim against the general contractor and roofing contractor. Our insurance company said claims against the contractors were theirs to pursue since we were "paid in full." Our response was we were not "paid in full" and, furthermore, our additional code upgrade costs had priority over the insurance company claims.

After extensive negotiations, we agreed to assign our claims against the contractors to the insurance company, and they agreed to pay us a total of $2,241,674, which exceeded policy limits by $474,674. This result came from God so that the church could be rebuilt. Really, it’s all God's money anyway.

Addendum on Church Architecture: John Cannon

Through prayerful consideration, the Church Building Committee decided to ask John Cannon to be the architect for the new building construction. As principal of the firm, he accepted. Looking back, he saw that prayer and God‘s guidance were the golden thread that enabled and tied the whole project together.

Through the course of the next several months, four options for the church rebuild were prepared. Plan A was the most aggressive and expensive, while option D was the least aggressive and expensive. The options were presented to the congregation, and plan A emerged as the most favorable. It includes what the church is today.

Plan A was designed to segue into a future removal of the corner office buildings to allow a new expansion of offices to the corner, along with the addition of a second story over that area. Instead of being pitched to drain, the roof trusses over the Moss Bay preschool are flat, allowing for a future floor above that area as expansion space. That is as a little known “FYI.” Requiring the built-up roofing to do all the drainage work over the preschool has possibly exacerbated some of the recent leakage problems therein. There is under-slab plumbing installed in the corner of the meeting room by the teachers’ offices that can accommodate a future restroom.

John shares some architectural details about the rebuilding of the church, which he may be the only person who knows.

  1. The tall folded white wall behind the cross in the main church. In the original 1954 design, the wall behind the white wall at the cross was comprised of vertical two by fours stained with burlap behind them so as to complement the white wall. In the remodel, we put stucco on this wall with rough texture in off-white to achieve the same purpose. I specified the great wall behind the cross to be refinished in a “level five“ finish, the highest level of drywall finish available to the trades. Roughly 250 pounds of drywall finish was applied to the wall so that it was as perfectly smooth a surface as was attainable. It seemed an appropriate thing to do for our Lord and Savior. On close inspection, one will not see a drywall joint or nail pop anywhere along the wall. Think about this the next time you are worshiping and know that your finances enabled this small but glorious testament to Him.

  2. Stained-glass windows. What to do with the vertical stained-glass windows on the west wall to be removed for sanctuary expansion? The windows were next to each of the vertical glue lam columns, much the same as on the east wall by the street. The five vertical windows were placed side-by-side to create a single stained-glass window in the new wall between the sanctuary and the narthex. Stained-glass needs light behind it, thus the skylight in the apex of the roof over the narthex.

  3. Marsh Hall doors. There are 12 doors to the great hall, representing each of the Tribes of Israel. (The exit door doesn’t count.)

  4. Marsh Hall ceiling. The structural engineer designed a great glue lam beam to hold the roof trusses over the great hall. This beam was originally designed to be exposed at the apex of the ceiling. I discerned that God preferred purity of form, and so I instructed the engineers to design the beam to go above and be hidden by the ceiling. This creates a pure white ceiling form at the top to match the other forms in the room. The next time you are in the great hall, look up and know that your finances enabled this expression of purity to God.

  5. Preschool classrooms. The architecture of the great hall needed to have a connecting element to the existing buildings at the corner. The library, nursery, and Sunday School meeting rooms provided this element. The St. John’s Preschool, with its flat, one-story roof, was designed to be different in color, texture, and form to the great hall and was partially roofed by a covered play area with a peaked roof and a Sunday School bell tower to suggest its use. The church chimes are housed in the small bell tower on the covered play area roof. The two Sunday School classrooms were originally designed to be convertible into one large classroom by a folding partition. This was changed to be a separating wall with connecting doors instead. The classroom windows are designed to be openable from the top for fresh air when the weather is nice, and the floor is heated with under slab radiation to provide greater comfort for the students who frequently sit on the floor.

  6. Parking lot. The parking lot is designed in a rectangle to accommodate a possible future parking structure. Taking advantage of the natural topography, a future parking structure floor could be accessed from first Street, and a second floor could be accessed from the second street. Two levels of affordable or senior housing could possibly be added above the parking structure in the future.

  7. Future expansion. Church parking requirements are dictated by the number of seats in the sanctuary. Since seating in the sanctuary cannot be expanded, the parking would not need to be added to for a future expansion of second-floor classroom and office space. The architecture for St. John’s Preschool enables expansion over that space to the corner of the property.

In closing, I want to add to that there is a spiritual thread that has gone through this entire project. Fr. Mackay was present in all the construction meetings throughout the project. Those meetings involved the architect, the consultants, the engineers, the contractor, and all the subcontractors. Fr. Mackay began each construction meeting with a prayer. In all my 35 years practicing architecture, I had never been involved in a construction meeting beginning with a prayer for unity and concord. From the fire, through the design process, and up to the end, God was involved in the creation and expansion of His ministry at His facility at St. John’s. I have been blessed to have been part of it.

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