Tuesday, December 20, 2011

TOP STORY >> Disaster strikes church again

Leader staff writer

When Pastor Bobby Michael Sr. moved his Jacksonville church and nonprofit thrift store from 5,800-square-foot to a 9,500-square-foot building with the same rent and an option to buy, he was thrilled.

Four weeks later, water was spilling out of cracks in the floor of the nondenominational God’s Holy House Church at 315 Dupree Drive.

The seeping water destroyed most of the inventory and the repairs the church has made to the building.

Stephen Niswanger, a Little Rock lawyer who owns the building, said he told the pastor it had several leaks before he rented it.

“I don’t think he expected it to be as bad as it is. It’s a money pit. No one knows how to fix it,” Niswanger said.

He said flooding has been a problem since 2007. He hired a waterproofing company to fix the problem in 2008, but the company couldn’t do it because they didn’t know what was causing the leaks, he said.

Niswanger believe there may be a broken pipe that runs behind the building — the kind of pipe that drains water from streets when it rains — making water back up into the building.

He has talked with city officials about the problem but nothing has been done.

With only $230 in the bank and a loss of about $3,000 from the store being closed, Michael is reluctantly seeking help from the community.

“We’re here to give, not to ask for stuff. It’s hard to ask. I’ve given it in prayer. I’ve already gave it up to Jesus. I hope people in the community can help. Pretty much, we’re stuck,” he said.

The rent is $1,500 per month, and the thrift store is barely able to cover the cost of utilities.

The pastor claims that the problem with the seemingly ideal location is a foundation leak that is expensive and difficult to fix, the pastor explained. The building has flooded six times since the church relocated there four months ago.

And he said he recently found out this wasn’t a new problem. The building was rented to the owner of Game Zone Alpha, who lost $100,000 of merchandise because of flooding and another renter, an auto parts shop, left because of the leaks.

Profits from the church’s thrift shop are used to help families in need. The church has helped about 600 people since the store opened in September.

A dumpster full of donations to that shop and the church have been ruined by the water that accumulates inside the building every time it rains. The pastor said Niswanger provided the dumpster to throw everything away.

On top of that, Michael said, “We’ve done a lot of work to this building,” including repairing walls covered with mildew, building classrooms, constructing a stage the pastor says is worth $5,000, fixing 18 of the 27 leaks in the roof and upgrading the fire alarm system.

All the carpet that was in the building has been removed now, and it has its own place in the dumpster.

The pastor is waiting to see if it will be condemned by the city as unsafe and/or unusable, but the church has nowhere to go if it is.

This isn’t the congregation’s first holiday to run into trouble. Last year around the same time, a thief broke into their former location in the shopping center on Main Street across the road from First Arkansas Bank and Trust between Bailey Boulevard and Warren Street next to the library.

Most of the store’s inventory was stolen, ruining Christmas for many needy families.