Reconstruction work suspended at tornado-damaged Grace Baptist in Chattanooga
Construction of a replacement facility for the storm-damaged Grace Baptist Academy and Grace Baptist Church was halted last week due to delays in what officials hoped to be millions of dollars in federal aid needed for rebuild the East Brainerd complex destroyed by tornadoes in April 2020.
Church and school officials inaugurated a new religious and school complex over a year ago and held a closing ceremony a month ago to celebrate the installation of the last steel beam for a new 750-seat worship center. But construction crews working on the Tyson & Associates Construction Co. reconstruction project suspended work last Monday when funds the church had planned to receive from the Federal Emergency Management Agency had not been allocated. .
“We are still working with FEMA to try to raise the funds that they are looking to provide us to help us become whole and complete our campus again to get us back to where we want to be,” said Adam. Love, senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church. “This is what caused us to be suspended from work.”
The delay is likely to postpone the planned spring return of Grace Baptist Church to its Shallowford Road site and could delay plans to move at least some students to the reconstructed school site by fall 2022 .
“The recent suspension of on-site work while we wait for FEMA to complete its work to provide the funding we are owed appears to threaten our original schedule,” said Matthew J. Pollock, principal of Grace Baptist Academy. “This makes us fear that the occupation of the new facilities by the academy will be delayed.”
Reconstruction work suspended at Grace Baptist
After a series of EF3 tornadoes ravaged East Brainerd on Easter night in 2020, the federal government declared the tornado-ravaged parts of Chattanooga a disaster area, calling many sites damaged for FEMA help and loans. at low interest rates. But 20 months after the storm, some of those who suffered the most pecuniary damage from the tornadoes and hoping for federal help have yet to receive money from FEMA.
EPB is also waiting
EPB, which estimates it spent $ 37.1 million to repair power lines and equipment damaged by the 2020 tornadoes, is seeking to recoup 75% of that expense, or $ 27.8 million, from FEMA. But EPB spokesperson Scottie Summerlin said so far EPB has not yet been paid by FEMA for any of its claims.
The Easter night tornadoes caused up to $ 300 million in property damage in Hamilton County. Most of the damaged property has been or is being rebuilt with private insurance, and the US Small Business Administration granted more than $ 5 million in disaster loans last year to people damaged in tornadoes. April 2020 in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.
The Grace Baptist Church campus was hit the hardest by the tornadoes, and church insurance proved insufficient to pay most of the clean-up and reconstruction expenses, which are expected to total $ 40- $ 60 million. dollars.
“Our church and Grace Academy, which as a school is considered a ‘critical function’, were really devastated by the April 2020 tornadoes,” Love said. “It became pretty clear early on that our insurance had undervalued our campus, and it was likely to cover only a third to half of our rebuilding costs.”
While weighing his options, Grace discovered that it could qualify as a place of worship and private school for FEMA reconstruction assistance to complement her insurance and her own fundraising for the church and the school for a new building. Love said the church expected to receive FEMA funding by the end of October, but when the funds didn’t flow, leaders decided to put construction on hold rather than risk failing. be able to pay contractors for their work.
Love said Grace had to spend nearly $ 2 million on mitigation costs to protect properties and staff and prevent further damage while assessing the condition of structures. Ultimately, building inspectors determined that 15 of the 17 buildings at the 17-acre complex would need to be demolished, removed and replaced with new facilities.
Reshaping the future
“We are in the process of getting the job back on track and we hope this suspension will be very temporary,” Love said. “We are confident that at the end of the day we will get the funds we need to complete the project. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and how much.”
The new church and school campus will include five interconnected buildings and a hall to expand the upper and lower schools of Grace Baptist Academy while leaving 27% more green space than on campus previous.
When complete, the new facility will include a worship center with a 750-seat auditorium, a sports complex and sports building with a 1,000-seat tournament gymnasium, a fitness center and new buildings for lower schools. and higher with the capacity to be expanded for the enrollment of up to 750 students. The campus also has a new football and soccer stadium, a softball and baseball field and an amphitheater.
While the campus is being rebuilt, Grace Baptist Academy has temporarily moved to Morris Hill Baptist Church at 1804 Morris Hill Road, while Grace Baptist Church is meeting temporarily at Chattanooga First Seventh-day Adventist Church at 7450 Standifer Gap Road.
Despite the challenges of the dislocation, Love said Grace Baptist Church has remained strong and that Grace Baptist Academy has in fact increased its enrollment by 18% since fall 2020. Founded by Grace Baptist Church in 1985, Grace Academy has more than 500 students. Kindergarten to Grade 12.
“Due to the generosity of Morris Hill Baptist Church and its excellent facilities, we have adapted effectively during this time of travel from our campus,” said Pollock. “Our students thrive and excel in this temporary setting, but we look forward to regaining our full capacity and potential on the new campus being built for us.”
Love and Pollock both said that through the storms and fundraising challenges that followed, they learned to rely on God’s blessing.
“Our church has been true to our name,” Love said.
Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340.