A new church building being constructed in Prince Rupert is set to be finished by Dec. 23 with a new eco-friendly product speeding the build by volunteer hands just three months after the start.
The Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses build on the corner of 9th West and McBride has taken just a few months after commencing on Sept. 13 after starting with an empty site that was cleared, prepped and ready for the project.
The quick build is not unprecedented, with the original building on the corner of McBride and Third Ave East being built over the short timeframe of several days in 1988. The Jehovah’s Witness Organization (JW.org) church was demolished on July 29 as part of a land-swap deal, negotiated over several years, with the City of Prince Rupert for a new RCMP station.
The volunteer-led construction team is made up of local congregants and skilled church-building members who have ties and experience in the construction industry.
Skilled volunteers from all over the country sign up online to join church construction groups happy to donate their time and talents. For the Prince Rupert meeting-house builders have come from Edmonton, Quesnel, Vancouver and even one couple driving down from Whitehorse to contribute their time and talents.
Dan Dixon is the site construction manager who hails from southern Alberta and has been stepping up to complete projects for the past seven years. He was previously a building inspector and flooring guy and has been as far as South America to build for the JWO. The next stop is a new church in Haida Gwaii which will also be built in a short amount of time due to volunteers and materials already on hand.
A unique, environmentally friendly new feature which propels construction time is the wall system being installed, Dixon said. The wall structure is known as SIPS – structurally insulated panel system.
“The whole wall is one piece. It’s six inches of foam, then the plywood is pre-fastened on either side,” Dixon explained to The Northern View. “So when we lift it up and put it in place, just compared to traditional framing, it’s far more thermally efficient.”
“But, the real big savings is it’s much faster to install, and it’s more thermally efficient, energy efficient compared to the standard,” Dixon said.
He said construction teams are assembled and assigned projects. Building materials were ordered more than eight months before the start of the build.
“We have to coordinate … we assemble a team together and we’ll do the budget. We’ll do the schedule, order all the material. Then we have to make sure we coordinate the permits, inspections and all that,” he said.
Once those tasks are completed, the organization has an online database of willing participants. Qualified members from different trades and skills are then invited to join the team. More than 140 volunteers have assisted with the Prince Rupert project. Between 30 to 40 are from the local area.
That’s where the Maes’ come in. A married couple from Whitehorse, Gordon Maes and his wife Yolanda Maes drove more than 20 hours to put their skilled hands to good use for a two-week stint. They have been working on organization build projects since the early 80s, as far away as French Guiana and the Caribbean.
“We used to do these builds in two days,” Gordon said, citing his hometown Whitehorse build. “It was to fill a need, but now we’re moving to where we’re taking the three months, three and a half months to do it.”
Gordon, who is a carpenter by trade with a background in structural steel, has worked on more than 40 Kingdom Halls around the world. Yolanda started off doing general labour and has learned skills in concrete, framing and roofing. She has developed a love for tiling and painting.
The Maes enjoy volunteering and contributing to the work that is needed.
“… one of the things that Jesus said is there’s more happiness in giving — so to enrich a person’s life to help others out,” he said.
“The friends here needed help. We knew the little group couldn’t do it by themselves,” Gordon said, adding, in turn, they have a project that will be needed in the next couple of years and the Whitehorse members will need help.
“You see a lot of happy people and that’s a real attraction. You know, it just it’s not like work. You’re working with friends and helping one another out. So, I really enjoy that aspect of it,” the carpenter said.
The couple is being billeted by church members they had never met who have now become new friends, they said. As the work is a volunteer project, all travel and accommodation costs are borne by the workers. Yolanda said it is their way of giving back to the community.
“We feel like we’ve learned and benefited from what we’ve been taught in the Bible … we feel that these community centers, the Kingdom Halls, they’re a center for learning about the Bible,” she said. “The meetings are open to the public and we really hope that people from the community will come and visit. Our meetings are Tuesday nights and Sundays.”
An open house for residents of Prince Rupert to have a look at the finished meeting house will be organized by local congregants in the near future, the construction site manager Dixon said, adding he has found the city residents to be very supportive and helpful.
“I think this community is the nicest community I’ve ever worked with as far as people being friendly. I don’t think I’ve met a single person who hasn’t been nice to us, even going to the restaurants, going to suppliers, just going shopping on the weekend. It’s incredible … It’s been a real pleasure to work here,” Dixon said.
K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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