Removal of items started at St. Mary’s

By Carol Moorman, Staff Writer

Melrose–Trista Kociemba watched as members of her ServiceMaster Recovery Management crew demolished a meeting room in St. Maryʼs Church Basement Wednesday morning. The day before lighting fi xtures were removed.


Upstairs, another crew removed debris, left behind after a March 11 fi re inside this historic church in Melrose. On the fl oor, in front of St. Josephʼs altar, which is still intact, laid part of the high altar and a charred piece of a statue, destroyed in the fi re.


In the burned sacristy, charred pots remain in burned cabinets. Salvagable items, including the altar used for Mass, sits on a corner of the sanctuary, and the sanctuary light hangs from the tall domed ceiling with timbers showing through.


Cleanup is part of the recovery process as the interior of St. Maryʼs Church is emptied so restoration can possibly begin. ServiceMaster Recovery Management (SRM) based out of St. Cloud, contracted by the churchʼs insurance company, was onsite the day after the fi re, boarding up windows and placing a fence around the affected area. A command center was also set up. During a walkthrough on March 21, Rob Fearer, SRM managing director, watched as employees cleared debris from the sanctuary area, down to the carpeting. Makeshift lighting was strung throughout the body of the church. He estimated it would take close to 60 days to remove items, dry the building out, ridding it of the soot and odor, preparing it for possible reconstruction, rebuilding areas which have been destroyed.


The extent of the damage has not been determined. The cause of the fi re is still under investigation. Salvageable items, like the current altar and lectern, will be loaded up into a truck with other items and taken to another location where they will be cleaned and stored. Fearer said employees go through items individually and determine what is salvageable. Church staff assists them when there are questions.


Pews inside the church were numbered with tags. They were removed from the church late last week and loaded up into two semis, taken off-site to be refurbished and stored until itʼs time to return them. Fearer explained the walls would be baking soda blasted to remove as much of the soot and char as possible, in preparation for the construction process. They will also be treated for odor. The two side altars that are intact can be taken apart, re-sanded and stained and put back together again.


The basement has been dried, with removal of items almost complete. Items also will be cleaned and stored.


Fearer said this is all part of a large loss process that SRM can take care of. There are two phases—the mitigation phase and the rebuild phase. The mitigation phase includes dry out, debris removal, content removal of salvageable items, listing of the non-salvageable items, cleaning of contents, cleaning of structure and odor mitigation. SRM will be completing the mitigation and develop a scope of reconstruction over the next few weeks.


As the mitigation continues, further determinations on the full scope of re-construction will be underway to better determine the full cost of restoration to the churchʼs pre-loss condition.


SRM teams have performed restoration services in 27 countries during more than 50 years in business. St. Cloud is one of 12 locations where they have command centers.


They have a wide variety of resources available to get the various jobs done. “We try and use local businesses, like here in we used a local garbage hauler,” said Fearer. SRM has worked on over 750 churches and schools over the past 10 years.


One of the projects was storing St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Willimantic, Connecticut,

 damage during a fi re. Fearer said the structure, although smaller than St. Maryʼs in Melrose, was similar inside.


“We restored it to the way it was before the fi re,” said Fearer. In the summer of 2014 St. Mary's School in Morris, MN., suffered a loss, after water poured down from the roof, damaging all the fl oors, walls and ceilings. Working with SRM of

St. Cloud they were able to repair all the damages and restore the school before it opened in the fall. In March of 2014 Trinity High School in Dickinson, S.D., suffered tremendous damage from a fi re. Smoke and soot covered much of the building, and secondary damage from water from the fi remen putting out the fi re. SRM of St. Cloud was called in to restore the school to its former glory, especially for the students, faculty and family affected by the loss. ServiceMaster employees aided in the Pentagon recovery following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Thanks to around-the-clock work, the remediation and cleanup of 5 million square feet was completed in just two months.


Fearer said since projects are often long-term, and employees are on-site daily, they get to know community members, forming a partnership and bonds.


For some SRM employees thatʼs not hard to do. Kociemba is familiar with the area, living just a few miles away and with the Kociemba last name, has relatives involved in this church.


As Fearer walked around inside St. Maryʼs Church on March 21, he watched SRM employees at work. “We are here to get people back into the building that they love,” he concluded.

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