Construction has begun on the new Metropolitan Baptist Church, and it is expected to be completed by August 1985, despite numerous delays in securing construction money and building supplies.
The old church, one of the most distinguished in Washington, was torn down in April after a bitter struggle that pitted church officials against a small group of dissident parishioners on whether to demolish or repair the 102-year-old building.
Metropolitan, at 12th and R streets NW, is home to one of the oldest and largest black congregations in the area. Church officials, including the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks, successfully fought attempts to make the church an historic landmark, which would have prevented its demolition.
The new sanctuary's concrete foundation has been poured and the basement-level kitchen, recreation room and offices are roughed in. Last week, 14 of the new buidings's 32 steel columms were erected.
Architect Robert Bryant and Forman Building construction supervisor Jim MacGowans attributed the month-long delay in beginning construction to delivery problems of 30 tons of steel from a subcontractor.
That followed a spring delay when all of the old church's electrical power had to be temporarily transferred to adjacent Monument Hall, where services are being held during construction, Bryant said.
Construction is expected to continue through the winter after plastic sheets are hung from the new beams to keep the workers warm and to prevent the freezing of the mortar to be used on the brick exterior.
"I would say overall we are abouut three to four weeks behind schedule," said Bryant. "I'm not so happy with the steel suppliers. They were supposed to have been putting up those steel columns two weeks ago.
"Also, we had no idea the transference of power to Monument Hall would take so long." Bryant added, "Anytime a client thinks they're off their target date, there's apprehension and anxiety. But it's too early to panic, since we're still hoping to catch up. The world is not going to end if it the building is finished a week late.
The contemporary-style church, built of tan brick and featuring a front courtyard and a 4,000-seat sanctuary, will contain 30 percent more floor space than the old church, Bryant said.
Some church members argue that the new church may never be completed, because of what they say is a lack of money. The National Bank of Washington approved a $1.5 million construction loan to the church last January, on the condition that the church provide $1 million more toward the estimated $2.5 million project.
"My goodness, yes, they're way behind schedule," said member John Black, a leading opponent of the new building. He added, "Church members stopped contributing money for the new buildung when they saw nothing was happening. It'll take a miracle to ever get that building finished."
Wilma Harper, another opponent, said, "We can't change anything now that the old church is down, but we just knew the money wasn't raised to put up a new building. We tried to get the board of trustees to wait two or three years before starting the church with no money to finish it. Now they're buying new chairs and things for Monument Hall, so its looks like they plan to use that as the church for a long time."
Hicks called such statements totally unfounded.