Story last updated at 12:43 p.m. Thursday, August 7, 2003

Jehovah's Witnesses raise new Kingdom Hall over weekend
by Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

photo: news

  Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Progress on Kingdom Hall building by mid-day on Thursday.  
They came. They sawed. They conquered.

In a 90-hour building frenzy, about 450 Jehovah's Witnesses from Homer, elsewhere in Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48 built a new 4,032-square-foot Kingdom Hall from a bare foundation to a finished building wallpaper, framed prints, fixtures, furniture and trim.

Homer's 100 Jehovah's Witnesses had outgrown their old Kingdom Hall, built in 1977 with volunteer labor on a site on the Sterling Highway next to Homer Independent Baptist Church and below West Homer Intermediate School. The Witnesses put out the call to other members of the faith: We're building a new hall. Can anyone help?

Help they did.

Buzz Brown, supervisor of the project, said volunteers planned their summer vacations around the building project, what Witnesses call a "quick build" or "fast build." From congregations overseas to Alaska, it's how they build new halls.

photo: news

  Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Photo showing progress on Kingdom Hall about mid-day on Thursday.  
"It's a huge undertaking that could tie up your time," Brown said, "so you just get it done."

Normally quick builds get done in two days, but so as to not tax the volunteers too much, Brown said they planned on a four-day build.

The foundation and some iron work had been done ahead of time. At 8 a.m. Thursday morning, a team of carpenters and framers started putting up the walls. By 1 p.m., they had the walls up and ready for a Spenard Builders Supply employee in a boom truck to deliver and put up the roof trusses.

Bob Murphy of Wasilla was the "king of the kitchen," the man making sure all the volunteers got fed. The Homer Jehovah's Witnesses provided the food and other volunteers kept the kitchen running. Murphy said he planned for 16 meals over four days for 400 people at a sitting standing, actually at elbow-high temporary tables by the kitchen.

"Sixteen and a quarter," he said Monday evening, adding that late Sunday night a call went out for more sandwiches to keep the last workers going.

photo: news

  Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Progess made by Thursday evening.  
By providence, the Witnesses had clear weather throughout the build. Now and then a cooling fog would roll in during the heat of the day. Anyone driving by who stopped and listened would hear the steady tapping of hammers, a drone not heard in Homer since the kids boatbuilding tent at the Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Festival was taken down.

Table and chop saws made cutting efficient, and volunteers at a tool shed handed out supplies. Everyone in the construction area wore hard hats, from big burly guys to slender women. Workers wrote their names on duct tape slapped to the brows of hard hats. One woman had a piece of duct tape on her hardhat that said, "Need SBS? Ask me."

Around the perimeter of the lot visitors parked motorhomes and vans. More cars and motorhomes were parked at the corner of Soundview Avenue and the highway, or at West Homer Elementary School. Some set up tents on the school lawn, and the school gym was opened up for people who didn't mind sleeping on the floor. Kids too young to help played at the school, and throughout the build people streamed back and forth from the site to the school, catching a few winks and then getting back to work.

Regional building committees organize state and national fast-build projects. The committees try to match Witnesses with building experience with unskilled volunteers. On the site, workers with experience in plumbing, electrical work, carpentry and equipment operation showed others the tricks of the trade.

By Friday, everyone looked a bit bedraggled. From his command post on top of the old hall, Brown and other project managers directed the build. As weekend visitors rolled into town, the volunteers put up the last of the plywood on the roof and walls and started on the siding. Up in the command post, Brown roused the volunteers back to work as they finished the evening meal.

photo: news

  Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Final photo Monday morning of the new Kingdom Hall.  
Alaska has 26 congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses, with 2,380 total members. Kingdom Halls have been constructed in fast builds in Big Lake, Wasilla, Juneau, Metlakatla, Palmer and other places, and with a double hall built in Anchorage. Internationally, there are 6.3 million Jehovah's Witnesses in 94,600 congregations, according to the official Website, www.watchtower.org.

Brown said by 10 p.m. Sunday the volunteers finished the inside work in the new hall. He said on average from 250-300 people were on site at any time, with a peak work force of 360 workers. Overall, 450 people volunteered.

By Monday morning most of the out-of-town visitors moved on, or perhaps drove up the road to a quiet campground to catch up on much needed rest. Still some volunteers kept working. People swept up the new concrete steps, raked the top soil and planted grass seed or planted shrubs and trees. Murphy and his kitchen crew dismantled the temporary plastic-over-wood cookhouse.

Monday evening, the Homer Jehovah's Witnesses held an open house. Showered and shaved, neatly dressed, hair combed, the congregation showed off its new home. A library was ready for moving in books. The building had that new carpet smell. It was hard to find a bit of trim that hadn't been nailed down, a switch plate that hadn't been screwed on. Mike Kennedy came by to pay his respects; he's contracted to haul away the old Kingdom Hall this week. Every Witness there wore a smile as wide as a midsummer day. It was the only thing that hadn't changed from Thursday morning. From start to finish, at any point in the construction, if you looked around at the workers, despite the weariness, people smiled.

"This is so awesome," Libby McClellan had said Thursday morning as she looked around.

With the help of a few friends, the Homer Jehovah's Witnesses have built a new Kingdom Hall.

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