Special Report: Saving Grace part 3

Special Reports

SPRINGFIELD, Fla. (WMBB)- Springfield Baptist Church was just one of many churches that was heavily damaged during Hurricane Michael. 

The church has been inspiring members since 1943. While they have gone through a number of buildings throughout the years, their most recent home was located at 3615 East 3rd Street in the heart of Springfield, that was until the powerful winds of the now category 5 storm destroyed a majority of the facility.

The roof of Springfield Baptist Church was torn off, causing severe damage to the second floor.

Although the building was heavily damaged, services did not stop. Through the assistance of staff at Immanuel Baptist Church, Springfield Baptist moved its services to the Immanuel sanctuary. And more than a year after Hurricane Michael the services are still being held in this temporary home. 

Pastor of Springfield Baptist Church, Virgil Tillman, says their insurance didn’t cut it when it came to gathering funds for the rebuild, so leaders at the church decided to apply for FEMA assistance. 

“Most of us had the same insurance same but they said they could not afford the insurance that it would cost for wind exclusion so the church has opted to not have it, so it bit us,” said Springfield Baptist Church pastor, Virgil Tillman. 

Insurance is normally the go-to for assistance following a disaster, but clearly, that wasn’t an option for Tillman. 

“In a disaster, the top three funding sources are going to be private insurance, U.S. small business administration low-end disaster loans, and thirdly, FEMA grants,” said FEMA Media Relations Manager, Jim Homstad. 

All of the church’s documents remain in boxes, destroyed by water.

FEMA’s disaster public assistance program is the agency’s largest program and is currently assisting not just other churches in the area, but also businesses. We touched on the other churches receiving assistance in our News 13 special report, Saving Grace Part 2, which expressed the concerns of some pastors with moving forward in the process.

Pastor Tillman says he does share some of those concerns as well. “I can’t even comprehend millions and billions I mean it’s so much money I don’t know. I think houses of worship are very important to a community,” said Tillman. 

Tillman says his church is far long in the process. So far they’ve applied for FEMA assistance, assessed damages, calculated the damages and are moving forward with approval of the money they believe will be needed to repair their church. 

The number at hand right now is $4 million, an amount that can be subject to change during the review process.

“If they approve the $4 million, we get $3 million sent to the state of Florida and we start making draws on that to build, but it’s not like we make draws, we spend the money and then they reimburse us,” said Tillman. 

Since the project is estimated at over $1 million, the amount is required to be reviewed and processed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA). This step happens after FEMA completes its final review. Once submitted to OLA, the project then goes through another review process before being awarded. 

The review process through the Office of Legislative Affairs goes as follows: 

  • Project review
  • Cost review
  • Public Assistance programmatic review
  • Dept. of Homeland Security review
  • Office of Management and Budget review 
  • Congressional notification

Once the amount is approved and the congressional notification is made, then the money will be awarded to the state. It is then the state’s responsibility to disperse the funds to the applicant. 

It’s a timely process that Tillman hopes to go smoothly and he says he worries that if the amount is lowered, it will impact the rebuild. “Engineers are telling us that a church like this right now, the auditorium, is $450 a square foot. It won’t go far, $4 million today… everything has gone up, contractors, materials,” he said. 

Regardless of the timeline, Tillman said he’s patient and is determined to do anything he can to get back in his home church. However, he says he can’t express enough the gratitude he has for those at Immanuel Baptist Church. 

Pictured: Stained glass windows at Immanuel Baptist Church where Springfield is currently holding services.

“We want to get back in our houses of worship, but we’ve certainly learned a lesson that the church is not the building. We’re still together as a church, just in a different building but we want to get back in our church building. There’s just something about Springfield Baptist that’s calling us home and we want to be there,” said Tillman.

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