Members of Wetumpka’s First Presbyterian Church, which was obliterated by January’s tornado, have tentatively scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for a new sanctuary Aug. 11.
The new structure will have the same appearance as the iconic Gothic Revival-style church originally constructed in 1856 that was destroyed, according to Rev. Jonathan Yarboro.
“We’ve added a couple of features to make it more user friendly but the new building will aesthetically look like the old building, especially the front,” Yarboro said. “The building we lost was a historic sanctuary and we had separate wings for education and administration. They were not built at the same time and the connection was a little wonky. We streamlined it and made it one cohesive facility instead of three.”
The church was built 163 years ago for $2,300. The east wing was added in 1947 and the west wing in 1957. Yarboro said total damages have been estimated at $3.9 million.
“We’re in final negotiations with our insurance company,” he said. “We had replacement coverage.”
Since the tornado, the congregation has been worshiping on the property in the fellowship hall, which survived the storm. In recent weeks some remaining demolition has occurred and the lot prepared for construction.
“We are in the process of getting final approval from the building department of the city and while we are waiting we are proceeding with site prep work,” Yarboro said. “As soon as we get the go ahead, we’ll start pouring footings. It’s our intention to officially start coming out of the ground by the end of July.”
Yarboro said the groundbreaking ceremony would be incorporated with the regular Sunday church service Aug. 11.
The contractor for the project is Russell Construction of Montgomery, which built the fellowship hall and handled repairs, and Yarboro said it could take a year to build the new church.
“That’s the worst-case scenario,” he said. “Weather is usually a factor. Our original thought was to be in it by Easter 2020 but that doesn’t look feasible.”
Yarboro said the community is thrilled by the imminent return of the church to its accustomed place in the city’s landscape, the steeple towering over the Coosa River and the Bibb Graves Bridge.
“There is tangible excitement in the entire community that the church is coming back,” he said.
The church’s congregation has not declined in the aftermath of the tornado; it has 125 enrolled members and averages 85 to 90 worshipers on Sundays, according to Yarboro.
“Our membership has not changed,” he said. “The tornado and the aftermath strengthened us as a church family.”