Monday, March 12, 2007

Holy Trinity Fire—First Anniversary

[With thanks to KTOO's Rosemary Alexander]

Today, March 12, 2007, marks the anniversary of the burning of Holy Trinity Church, McPhetres Hall, and all their contents, including virtually the entire inventory of sets, costumes and props for one of Juneau's local repertory companies.

The arson was committed by a man who had been ejected from a party. In a drunken rage he set fire to a can of gas in a boat between the church and the house next door. The ensuing conflagration could easily have spread to the entire historic downtown area if there had been any wind, and in fact many people living nearby were evacuated and given shelter in Centennial Hall, the local convention center. The man has now been convicted and sentenced to fifteen years, seven suspended, a thousand hours of community service, and costs. The congregation is in touch with the man's family and visits him in prison.

The good news is that the church is well into the design process to rebuild; in addition, it has been able to purchase the small lot next door, which will provide badly needed parking.

The bad news is that the church insurance company is balking at paying the costs for which the church was insured. The church building that burned was worth about 1 million dollars; however, it was in insured for replacement, which will cost approximately 3 million dollars due to high costs in a town where every piece of lumber, every nail and every light bulb have to be hauled in by barge. A one-month delay will mean that the very short summer building season will have to be aborted, and that costs incurred in the following season will rise by approximately 20%.

Recovering from a tragedy such as this one is costly in ways that cannot be calculated. While there has been the blessing of amazing generosity, there have also been the inevitable internal conflicts that follow on such a traumatic event.

To have these problems exacerbated by a merciless insurance company that threatens to break a contract made in good faith is all too typical of our times. Ours is not a wealthy community; it seems always to be the poor who have to pay.

Tonight the community will have a potluck at St Anne's parish hall at the Roman Catholic cathedral up the hill. There will be a service of remembrance and hope.... hope tempered by the spectre of a project that may have to be put on hold, and the possibility of a fundraising campaign whose goals may be impossible to meet.


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