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City hall awaits structural report following St. Andrew's fire

Chief building official says access to Owen Street church remains restricted until 'unsafe conditions no longer exist'
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, located on Owen Street in downtown Barrie, is shown in a file photo.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church remains without tenants as the downtown Barrie congregation waits on engineers to deem the building safe to enter following a recent fire.

As church representatives said at a meeting on Sunday, the process for getting back into their historic building may be a long one, possibly up to several months.

Barrie police say the blaze was deliberately set around 10 p.m., on Sunday, Feb. 19. The fire damaged a portion of the building's library, located in the rear of the church at 47 Owen St. 

The City of Barrie has issued ‘do not enter’ order on the building due to safety concerns.

Paul Evans, the city's chief building official, says his department has been in contact with church representatives and they have explained the requirements for the building-permit application process to repair the fire-damaged area.

“We have asked that they engage the services of a professional engineer to evaluate the damaged area and provide direction for remedial action, including temporary support to stabilize the structure,” Evans told BarrieToday.

“Access to the church is restricted until remedial action is to be carried out and a subsequent report from the professional engineer advising that the unsafe conditions no longer exist," he added. 

Barrie firefighters were called to the church Feb. 19 after flames were seen at the back. The call was upgraded when it was discovered smoke had filled the building. 

After other small fires were set in the downtown area, police arrested a suspect a few hours later.

Lance Freeman, 37, of no fixed address, has been charged with three counts of arson and failure to comply with probation order. 

Freeman, who remains in custody, had a brief court appearance on Tuesday. He is scheduled to be back in video remand court Wednesday morning. 

The St. Andrew's congregation gathered at Collier Street United Church this past Sunday for a morning service, with the plan being to do the same for the next few Sundays until they can decide how to continue with services.

Meanwhile, it's unclear how long the rebuilding process will take, with one church official suggesting it could up to eight months. 

St. Andrew’s opened its sanctuary on the corner of Owen and Worsley streets on Feb. 25, 1883. A Christian education wing was added after the First World War and that is where the fire occurred. 

The library was where many church artifacts were housed, including the original wooden doors from the building's Owen Street entrance.