By LINDA MILLER
First Presbyterian Church pastor Jonathan Yarboro said last week he expects to break ground this summer on the reconstruction of Wetumpka’s landmark structure which was destroyed by a tornado on Jan. 19.
The plan is for the church to have the same exterior appearance it had before the tornado and the interior will be similar to but not an exact replica of the original design. Modern building codes will determine a number of changes as will the availability of certain materials. Plans are also being made to convert the former Fellowship Hall into a storm shelter for area residents.
The estimated cost to repair the structural damage inflicted on the west wing alone is $400,000 to $450,000, a church official said. In one to two months, the congregation hopes to hear final settlement numbers; the east wing is expected to be completed first.
Contractor Steve Russell was chosen early on for the reconstruction project because the church used him to build the Fellowship Hall two years ago. The architect is Freddie Lynn, a former Boy Scout Leader of Troop 13, which has had long affiliation with First Presbyterian.
Yarboro said First Presbyterian was insured for its replacement value and expects the project to be complete within a year. Then everyone will again see the familiar view of the church and steeple from the Bibb Graves Bridge.
The EF2 tornado that hit Wetumpka on Jan. 19 flattened or severely damaged nearly 200 structures west of the historic bridge in downtown, including the church, which many people saw as a symbol of the community.
Much has been accomplished in the two months since. The lot has been cleared of debris and anything salvageable was stored in a safe place. A list of all the contents in the church was submitted to the insurance company so items can be replaced. Church pews and other items attached to the structure will be included in the cost of rebuilding.
In only five weeks, repairs were completed on the Fellowship Hall and the Freeman House located behind the church on Tuskeena Street, allowing the congregation and community groups to get back onsite. A sidewalk was completed so children going to Sunday School could safely get from the Fellowship Hall to the Freeman House.
Three days after the tornado, Yarboro said the congregation was determined to rebuild the church to its historic former glory. The original cost of building the sanctuary was $2,300 in 1856 and the church was dedicated on June 14, 1857.
The east wing was built in 1947 and the west wing in 1957. The exterior is in the Gothic Revival Style and the interior is Greek Revival.