ELKHART — Three months after a fire destroyed parts of the building housing Lifeline Youth for Christ, the organization is coping in its own way while the center is rebuilt.
Darrell Peterson, executive director of Lifeline, said after the Sept. 23 fire that Lifeline is more than a building, and that’s the message he’s been working to distribute throughout the community since.
The organization has been using alternative venues for their activities, including the YMCA on Jackson Boulevard, Mary Beck Elementary School and the old Roosevelt Center. The building that housed their activities isn’t fit for habitation at the moment, with parts that will have to be torn down and rebuilt.
This Winter Break, without their building and other venues closed for the holidays, most of their regular activities have been suspended for a few weeks, and instead, group leaders are being asked to form smaller groups of children and to interact with them as mentors, said Peterson.
Nonetheless, the organization continues to grow. Peterson said Lifeline has about 250 children, and he expects to see about 300 by the summer of 2013.
“I think there was a fear in the community that we wouldn’t rebuild,” Peterson said. “For the kids, I think it was just fear at the beginning. They are excited now that we are going to have new building.”
For now, the organization and its insurance company are working with an architect and a construction firm to estimate the cost of the repairs.
“There are just a lot of decisions to be made because we want to make the right move,” Peterson said.
He said the organization, from staff to children, are looking forward to the new year with a new building and new activities.
Peterson, who is also director of the YMCA of Elkhart County, is planning to have a 10-week summer camp to bring both organizations together.
In the meantime, he wants to continue to push Lifeline’s message.
“The one thing we have been stressing is that lifeline is more than a building, and it’s more about building relationships.”
Some debris still lies scattered along parts of East Street, between Division and State, where a fire tore down the old Tony’s Shoe Store building, an apartment building and the building housing Lifeline Youth for Christ in the early hours of Sept. 23.
The fire, which was determined to have started at the Tony’s Shoe Store building some time before 2 a.m., destroyed the building in its entirety and severely damaged the apartments building on the corner of East and Division Streets.
The cause of the fire was not determined by the Elkhart Fire Department and the insurance company’s investigation of the damage and reconstruction costs at the Lifeline building continues.
Three residents in the apartments were injured and taken to burn centers. Since then, one has been released and two were taken to hospices. Other residents from the apartments were displaced. The building was deemed uninhabitable after the fire and must be rebuilt or demolished. Elkhart city building commissioner Dennis Mann said the owners of the old shoe store building and the apartment building were given 90 days from the end of the investigation from the fire department to clean their properties, but so far nothing has been cleaned.
“We’re still waiting on them to proceed with the reconstruction and they haven’t done anything,” he said.
Mann said if the owners don’t clean their properties by the 90 days they are given, they are subject to a fine.
Because the Lifeline building was insured, the building commissioner’s department is giving them more time while the insurance company works on the investigation.
The west lane of East Street is still closed because of the debris. Marty Morgan, street commissioner, said the street was blocked between Division and State for about a month, until neighbors in that area asked for it to be reopened. Part of the street will remain closed until the rubble is cleared.