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UPDATED: After construction collapse, St. Paul Park church plans to rebuild

A St. Paul Park congregation's building project collapsed but its hopes of hosting worship and community meals in a new church have not been crushed.

The pastor of Household of Faith Church said the congregation plans to rebuild after construction framing for its building expansion toppled last week due to improper construction. Church members who were volunteering their time to build an addition spent last Wednesday installing roof trusses on the addition. Hours later, all of the framing collapsed overnight, injuring nobody but leaving damaged walls, tangled trusses and heaved brickwork.

"It's just a setback to us," said Rich Pfeffer, pastor at Household of Faith. "We're just thankful nobody got hurt. We'll just pick up the pieces and go from here."

The scene last Thursday at the building site at 1090 Chicago Ave. stunned and saddened church members as a mess of lumber lay strewn about, scaffolding buried under construction debris.

"Wow," said Marty Berg, a deacon at the church and one of the volunteers helping with construction. "It looks like a tornado went through here," he said.

The structure collapsed due to improper construction, said Andy McLean, a building inspector with the city of Cottage Grove, which inspects for St. Paul Park.

A contractor who was volunteering to help the church had suffered a heart attack just days before the building collapse. The church had scheduled a crane to help install the trusses Wednesday, and volunteers went ahead and continued framing in the contractor's absence. But the walls were not properly secured and the weight of the trusses caused them to give way, McLean said.

"Luckily there was no one on site when this happened," he said.

The church passed its inspection for the building's foundation, but the next inspection would not have occurred until the framing was complete and electrical and other work finished, McLean said.

Some of the congregation's 180 members were donating their time to help build the two-story addition this fall. Congregants who weren't directly involved in the construction had been stopping by the site daily to feed their fellow church members.

"It's been a community effort," Berg said.

The expansion was to include a worship area and a commercial kitchen. Church leaders envisioned it being used to feed the community; area churches could take turns hosting meals in the soup kitchen.

"We were really looking forward to it," said Christina Berg, Marty Berg's sister and a fellow church member.

Marty Berg said he and other volunteer builders were very fortunate.

"Praise God it didn't happen yesterday," he said. "We were all inside it."

Household of Faith is a congregation of about 180 people, and most of its members are recovering from alcohol or drug abuse, Pfeffer said. Because many of the members are "starting over" themselves, the church was trying to complete its addition without hired construction crews. Church members with a knack for building, including some retired construction professionals, were chipping in on the construction.

The church had professional help in designing the expansion and was getting the necessary permits, Berg and Pfeffer said.

After the collapse, inspectors put a "stop work" order on the project until a contractor is hired to oversee the project. Pfeffer said he would like to hire a contractor to resume construction, but church funds are tight.

"If we can afford to pay someone, we'd be glad to do it," Pfeffer said, adding: "Our plans are to go forward. It's just that we're in a delay now."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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