WESTPORT, Conn. — The smell of charred wood that lingered outside Westport’s Saugatuck Congregational Church after a six-alarm fire exactly one year ago may be long gone, but the church still bears the scars from the blaze as construction has yet to begin.
Plans for reconstruction are in place and have been approved by the town’s Architectural Review Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. But the plans still need to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, said John Walsh, chairman of the church's Board of Trustees.
“We’re optimistic that we’ve got a good plan, and we hope the Planning and Zoning Commission agrees,” Walsh said, noting that the plans will be reviewed by the commission Dec. 6. “Assuming everything continues to move along, we hope to break ground on our construction in early spring.”
The construction will take about 15 months, he said. If construction begins as planned, he said the congregation could move back into the 180-year-old church by late summer or early fall of 2014.
Under the plans, which were also approved by the congregation, the exterior of the church would be restored to its pre-fire condition. Some minor improvements would be made inside the church to enhance its “overall functionality and efficiency,” Walsh said.
For example, Hoskins Hall, where the church’s annual Thanksgiving and Christmas community feasts were held, would open out to the garden area. This would allow more natural light to fill the hall, Walsh said.
The fire, which erupted shortly before 10 p.m. in the rear of the church last Nov. 20, destroyed the fellowship room on the main level and the choir loft on the top floor, where a portion of the roof collapsed. The nursery school, located on the lower level, sustained major water and smoke damage. The rest of the church, including the sanctuary, sustained some level of smoke and/or water damage.
A total of 63 firefighters from six towns responded and the flames were fully extinguished about six hours later.
The cause of the blaze was never determined.