Oconee Street UMC Demolition

A backhoe pulls down a wall during the demolition of the Oconee Street United Methodist Church in Athens, Ga. on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013.(Photo/Taylor Craig Sutton, Taylorcraigsutton@gmail.com)

Where many people see a sad remembrance of the Oconee Street United Methodist Church fire on April 15, Joe Dennis sees the opportunity to rebuild.

Demolition of what remains of the 111-year-old sanctuary began Wednesday morning, and the process will last over the next several days.

“They actually are hoping to do demolition over the next couple of days and be done with it,” said Dennis, public relations coordinator for the church and the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication's director of diversity and high school outreach.

As the demolition portion of the project will cease within the next few days, the reconstruction of the church, which will begin immediately following Labor Day, will take roughly a year and a half to complete.

“We’ll start reconstruction next week after the holiday,” Dennis said. “That will be a long process – that will be about 18 months.”

Fortunately, neither parts of the project, Dennis said, will not bolster transportation troubles for Oconee Street.

“I don’t anticipate that there would be traffic problems,” he said. “There is a significant amount of property around the church that if things fell off, and trucks are contained within the fence. The only time there would be a disruption would be as trucks are backing out and moving in, and that would only be temporary. Other than that, I don’t anticipate many problems, and the ones that would be problems would be on Oconee Street and Poplar Street.”

The construction project includes only “professionals” — no volunteers are working to rebuild. But contributions made by members of the church include the establishment of a building committee headed by Maxine Easom, a longtime member of the church.

“All demolition is being done by professionals,” Dennis said. “There is a rebuilding committee that is charged with coming up with plans – working with the architects and contractors in terms of money and design of the church and dealing with the insurance company, but all the work is being done by professionals. Actually, the idea is to make the sanctuary of the new church as similar to the old church.”

Church members and friends of the church have also involved themselves through donations, resulting in roughly $60,000 to $70,000 earned in donations alone.

“We have been very blessed with a lot of donations ever since the church burned down,” Dennis said. “We’ve received donations online, from area churches who have held special collections for us, and we didn’t even ask anyone to do this. And also Methodist churches even beyond the area have held special collections in their services and have given us money in one big check.”

Donations will go toward the estimated $2 million project, but insurance will help restore the church to what it was, while the donations will contribute to the “long overdue” enhancements, Dennis said.

Having housed the local charity group Our Daily Bread, the Oconee Street church will be able to help other groups with the newly renovated basement area.

“The insurance will essentially cover and put it back how it was,” Dennis said. “The extra money that we’re getting in will help us make renovations that were long overdue. For example, we had a restroom on the second floor where the church is, but not on the first floor. So for ADA reasons, and for convenience sake, it was not ideal — so that’s something we’re hoping to do."

Dennis also said the money would help the church cater to its growing youth demographic.

"The dynamic of our church has changed in that we have a lot of children in our church and also we’re hoping to reach out more to college students in the area," he said. "This will allow us an opportunity to utilize our space in the money that’s donated. We will construct space that is more fitting to their needs. We can use the basement for other purposes, and we’re trying to make it as flexible as possible for our church and for other ministries that will serve there.”