The Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church is in full throes of reconstruction.
The city of Kenai's darling and the only federally designated National Historic Landmark on the Kenai Peninsula is undergoing renovations to fix its crumbling foundation and caving walls.
"It's a mess," said Father Thomas Andrew while standing inside the chapel last week amid the work in progress.
Apart from repairing the mounting structural deterioration of the 115-year-old church, plans for the building are to add a ramp for disability access as well as a fire and theft alarm system to protect the religious artifacts.
Blazy Construction of Soldotna has been doing the work on the church, having just completed replacing the rotting timbers in the church's log frame.
"If you look at how many logs had to be replaced it's a wonder it stood for so long without crumbling over," Father Thomas said. "When they were pounding on the inside you could see pieces of log coming off."
The project has not been without a few delays.
"It was supposed to start in May/June but it started in September," he said. "We waited for five and half months until they finally started working on it."
And once Blazy Construction began working the company discovered there was asbestos over the altar and main body of the church.
"We didn't really expect that," Father Thomas said. And the church really did not expect the cost of that either.
"It's a setback, but if people continue to donate, this would help pay for that," he said.
With a nearly $35,000 price tag for the asbestos abatement the parish looked to other funding sources to be able to continue the much-needed and long-awaited renovation.
Dorothy Gray, parishioner and secretary of the Russian Orthodox church's council, petitioned the city of Kenai for more funds. The city applied for a $20,000 grant from the Alaska Association of Historical Preservation on the church's behalf this fall and recently learned that funding will come through for the abatement.
That, along with a $1,000 mini-grant from the Kenai Historical Society, is helping to make up the unexpected expense, she said.
"We're a lot closer than we were a few weeks ago," Gray said.
If the parish is not able to come up with the remaining money, it might have to postpone or eliminate some of its plans, Gray said, like the new porch and ramp for disabled access.
But church officials seem to be taking it all in stride.
"You can't foresee all the unseen problems that might exist," Gray said. "Despite the delay things fell into place on this project so nicely."
For Father Thomas, the church's renovation with all of its unexpected roadblocks, is like one gigantic metaphor.
"Life is like that especially," he said.
And life goes on.
Gray said Blazy Construction will be pouring a gypsum concrete floor next week complete with a heated flooring system.
"It's going to be a nice addition to the church," she said. "It will help preserve the logs and our church was actually pretty cold so now it will be more uniformly heated."
Once that's completed, construction will continue on the inside of the building, replacing windows, walls and wirings.
Father Thomas said construction is expected to be complete in February.
For the time being, the church is holding services on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings across the street at Fort Kenay until renovations are complete this winter. And the parishioners don't seem to mind.
"We know that the church is actually comprised of the people who worship there; it's not the building itself," Gray said.
An altar is temporarily set up inside Fort Kenay for a makeshift worship space so the practicing parish can still meet the needs of its people, especially for the upcoming Orthodox Christmas celebrations.
"It's being worked on. That's the good part," Father Thomas said.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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