Located in a rural setting in Charles City, Virginia, the congregation at St. John Baptist Church has roots dating back to 1897. In fact, historical records show that an acre of land on which it stands was purchased for $8 in 1900. One early morning in February 2004, arsonist destroyed the original building. Burned to the ground, the 100+ year-old church, was quickly engulfed in flames and was completely destroyed within 7 minutes. Within close proximity, at least five other church fires were deliberately set, all within an eight-month period. The church was made mostly of wood, and the fire spread quickly. Sadly, all that remained standing was the front entrance.
At the time of the fire, fundraising efforts had already been underway for a while to meet the growing demands of this tight-knit congregation. They just weren’t prepared to begin design and construction so soon. This sudden tragedy catapulted expansion plans forward earlier than expected. The church saw a ton of outpouring from the community on the local and state level. In fact, nearby Samaria Baptist Church opened their doors to St. John’s congregation where they were amazingly able to hold services starting the first Sunday after the fire. Fortunately, Samaria had just recently purchased an adjoining building and St. John was able to worship there throughout the entire construction process.
“Across the state, church communities showed an outpouring of support,” said Gary Cole, Chairman of the Building Council for St. John. “We even held baptisms and other gatherings at neighboring churches. It is with this type of community involvement, faith and hard work, the project was ultimately completed without a bump in the road,” he adds.
In 2006, after forming a church building council, the committee began working through a design/build process with architect William Henry Harris and Evans Construction. Collaboratively, they worked to bring together a plan that suited both needs and budget. Supported with financial campaigns as well as insurance funds, the project immediately began to move forward.
Throughout the process, the entire team worked hand-in-hand to make design choices to keep the project in budget. Whether it was a decision to go with blinds in one area versus ceramic floors in another, the building committee was able to visually see how material choices would impact the budget. This type of collaborative approach, versus a typical competitive bid scenario, made it easy to allow for budgeted numbers to swing among multiple line items.
“The value engineering services enabled us to obtain key cost savings without affecting the design, quality, or function of the building. In fact, the cost savings allowed us to complete the fellowship hall and kitchen that was initially to be left as a shell for future completion,” added Mr. Cole.
Their new home boasts 11,000 square feet with the floor space being almost four times greater than the structure that burned to the ground. The new facility was designed with a 400-seat sanctuary, fellowship hall, commercial kitchen, education wing and offices.
Wanting to hold onto the history of the building, converted floor beams were salvaged from the ruins and made into pulpit furniture and other architectural features. In December of 2008, amid song and celebration, members of St. John Baptist Church and hundreds of friends and dignitaries joined together to dedicate the Charles City church’s new home.