The Northside Institutional Church of God is proving true the old adage “You can’t keep a good man down.”
The church building in California-Kirkbride burned nearly to the ground in late January of this year. Now, church leaders are preparing to rebuild on the same site in the first quarter of 2010, depending on the weather.
They aren’t simply going to rebuild though. They’re going to build a bigger, better church with facilities for the community, said church’s administrator, Chris Thorpe.
The community facilities will include a gymnasium, a daycare center, approximately eight classrooms and a computer lab. Along with the facilities, Chris said the church would expand its outreach programs.
Church Community Liaison Gina Thorpe, Chris’s sister, said that opening the daycare was a priority because California-Kirkbride currently has no daycares. Another priority is an afterschool program.
Along with daycares, the neighborhood lacks a safe place for children to walk to, and the church can provide that for them — once it’s built, of course.
Before the building burned down, Gina said the church served about 75 to 100 youth per week. Members saw the loss of their building as an opportunity to expand its services rather than as a setback.
The church plans on hosting open gym nights, as well as basketball leagues and other programs such as aerobics classes in the gym. It also plans on bringing in speakers and hosting programs relating to job searching skills, finding financial aide for college and others.
Chris said that the insurance from the fire will cover the construction of a new sanctuary, but they are still searching for funding for the community center, which will be named the Family Life Center.
“We want to say ‘Hey, let’s give something back to the community and get these kids off the street,’” Chris said. “It’s not just from a religious standpoint but a social standpoint that we’re trying to build this.”
The church received the appropriate building variances in early November, and members are in the process of preparing the site for construction. They already cleared out the foundation of the old church, and are working on clearing out old pipes and other debris.
The site should be clear by the middle of December, Chris said, and construction will start as soon as the weather allows. The church already has blueprints and a design by architectural firm Susan Tusick and Associates.
Though he didn’t want to reveal cost estimates, Chris said that the new sanctuary would be 19,000 square feet — 7,000 square feet larger than the old one.
In order to decide on the expanded services they would offer, the church leadership worked with the California-Kirkbride Neighbors, the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing, Northside Common Ministries and Greater Allen AME Church.
“We really want to be a part of the community and the community has been very supportive of our efforts,” Gina said.
The original building burned down on a Sunday, and the church was able to meet the following Sunday thanks to community support, Chris said.
They met at the Post Office’s Letter Carrier Building for about a month and then at New Hope Church on North Avenue for a month until they moved into a Lutheran church on Federal Street.
While congregants have had some trouble finding the church because of the constant moving, congregants are starting to return now that they are more settled.
They had to build ramps at the Lutheran church to make the building handicap accessible, but Chris didn’t focus on the negative. “The main part is trying to keep people excited about where we’re going."
Gina agreed. “We’re extremely excited about where we’re about to go. We are certain … that the neighborhood is going to come back to life.”