Melrose church forms steering committee, opens doors to show damage

Parish leaders at St. Mary Church in Melrose met May 31 with representatives from Catholic Mutual Insurance Group, JS Held — a construction consulting firm — and HMA Architects to share information regarding the church’s insurance coverage and ongoing efforts to arrive at cost estimates for its restoration after the March 11 fire.

Father Marvin Enneking, pastor of St. Mary’s, said these parties “believe they should be able to arrive at more solid numbers within four weeks.”

He also wrote in the parish bulletin that the architect, Murray Mack, said he is continuing to develop drawings for the restoration process while checking with the City of Melrose regarding building code requirements.

Jill Van Beck brought her children to see the damage to St. Mary Church June 14. “It’s crazy to think that it could look like this,” she said. “It’s just so hard to believe.” (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)
Jill Van Beck brought her children to see the damage to St. Mary Church June 14. “It’s crazy to think that it could look like this,” she said. “It’s just so hard to believe.” (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

Mack also suggested that the parish form a steering committee “to address the many questions that need to be answered as the restoration and construction process gets underway.”

Rick Klaphake, a lifelong member of St. Mary’s and second-generation operator of Klaphake Feed Mill in Melrose, was named chair of the steering committee.

“Our goal is to gather information, work with the insurance company and the general contractors and present the information back to the parishioners,” he said. “The committee will not be making any decisions. There will need to be input from everybody before any decisions are made.”

The committee also will tour other churches to get ideas for possible plans.

“Hopefully, we can come up with a few plans to present back to the parish and then go from there,” Klaphake said.

He also stressed that the committee must remain “very open-minded.”

St. Mary Church in Melrose was opened to the public June 13 and will be open daily through June 16. Between 900 and 1,100 people viewed the damage to the inside of the the church on the first day it was open. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)
St. Mary Church in Melrose was opened to the public June 13 and will be open daily through June 16. Between 900 and 1,100 people viewed the damage to the inside of the the church on the first day it was open. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

“We all have opinions, but the steering committee’s job is not to decide what to do. Our job is to gather information, to prepare and present to parish members,” he said.

Open doors

Also at the May 31 meeting, a question was raised about whether it would be possible for parishioners to view the inside of the church — something parish leaders had hoped to do sooner but, because of the danger of falling plaster, there were safety concerns.

It was decided that doors on the east end of the church would be opened temporarily, allowing people to see inside without risk to their safety.

The doors opened June 13 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Parish leaders were on site all day to answer questions and welcome visitors. Klaphake was there for about five hours.

The inside of St. Mary's before the fire. (Photo from parish's Facebook page)
The inside of St. Mary’s before the fire. (Photo from parish’s Facebook page)

“The response I heard the most was just, ‘Wow,’” he said. “It’s pretty much a bare structure. Everything has been removed. The pews and Stations of the Cross are in climate-controlled storage. Everything that was salvageable has been removed.”

The doors will be open additional days and hours throughout the week. Klaphake estimated between 900 and 1,100 people came on the first day alone.

“That’s what we wanted,” he said. “We wanted the people to see what we are dealing with, but we had to wait until it was safe. There are still pieces of plaster falling down. The more that come to see it, the better.”

Even though parish leaders hoped many would stop by, it was still tough to witness the range of emotions.

“There were a lot of tears, some people came in very quiet, a lot of people just shook their heads,” Klaphake said. “There’s still a lot of anger, too, that this wasn’t just a mechanical problem. It wasn’t an accident and it didn’t have to happen,” he said.

A burned light fixture hangs in the church. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)
A burned light fixture hangs in the church. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

Authorities announced last month their conclusion that the fire was intentionally set. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the state fire marshal have posted a combined reward of up to $7,500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the fire.

Klaphake knows it is going to be a slow process moving forward.

“We still don’t know a lot of answers. But as we prepare to present ideas, we have a responsibility to look ahead to the next 50 to 100 years,” he said. “It might not make sense to replace things exactly the way they were. We have to look ahead to tomorrow and what the future holds and come up with ideas. It’s going to take some time.”

Anyone having information about the fire should call the toll free ATF hotline at 888-ATF-FIRE (888-283-3473) or the Minnesota Arson Hotline at 800-723-2020. Callers may remain anonymous.

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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