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A fire at St. Alban the Martyr Anglican Church in South Burnaby last week has left the congregation without a home for the time being.

But in something akin to a minor miracle, the daycare on site managed to be licensed and ready for business less than 24 hours after being displaced. June 11.

Even before the first 911 call was made, the daycare was being evacuated of its 25 children aged three to five, said Pam Venkataya, director of St. Alban’s Daycare.

She said there were people working on the church’s security alarm panel when a man working in the church basement heard a telling “pop.” Right away, he informed daycare staff there might be a problem and that they should get the children out immediately.

“We told the kids it was a fire drill,” Venkataya said. And when they were all outside, a fire truck happened to pass by (Edmonds fire hall is just a couple blocks away). She believes it was those firefighters that made the first call for help.

When firefighters arrived to fight the blaze, they advised the daycare staff to take the children further away, which is how they ended up at Edmonds Community School across the street.

Venkataya has worked at the daycare since 1984 and said as long as she’s been there the daycare has had a protocol in place to use Edmonds school as a refuge in case of an emergency.

Last week was the first time it’s ever been used and it all went off without a hitch.

The St. Alban’s kids were given the school gym to play in and another room where they could gather for snacks. The library hosted a storytime. Older kids from the school came by to lend a hand.

Staff from nearby St. Matthews Day Care came to see if there was anything they could do to help. Deer Lake Preschool came by with a basket of toys and books. Others in the community, including local businesses like Andrew Sheret Plumbing, offered their support.

Everything went so smoothly, “the children didn’t even notice,” she said. “We’re really blessed that it went so well.”

And school district staff, including Doreen George, early learning and community programs coordinator, were notified and began working on helping the daycare meet its licensing requirements.

The daycare was offered space in the school’s community room, after other programs using the space were cancelled or relocated, Venkataya said.

Venkataya called the quick turnaround for a process that normally takes weeks “a miracle and a half.”

That meant St. Alban’s parents were only without child care for one day, as it reopened on Monday. Luckily, the daycare only sustained smoke damage but it’s expected to take two to three weeks before they can return to their church home, she said on Tuesday. Until then, they’ll be at Edmonds school.

Venkataya said the school and daycare have a longstanding relationship, noting she’s the chair of the school’s parent advisory council.

“For me it was just one of those things that happened,” said Blake Briscoe, principal of Edmonds school. “You just do what you do because you’re neighbours and you work together and everybody’s part of the community. It was very seamless.”

Meanwhile, it’s not yet known how long it will be before the St. Alban’s congregation can return home.

The fire was inside the wall of the 1909 church on the 19th Avenue side, said assistant fire chief David Graystone. “We had to remove a portion of the south wall to put out the fire completely.”

There’s a fair amount of smoke damage to about half the building and the structural damage is limited to the 19th Avenue section.

Graystone said one worker on site was taken to hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation but there were no other injuries.

The fire is still under investigation and the cause has not yet been determined, he said.

Randy Murray, communications officer for the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, said in a report on the diocesan website that the fire broke out in the rector’s office. Early but unconfirmed reports are that “an electric drill being used to install a new security system caused sparks in the wiring. The sparking quickly escalated into a full fledged electrical fire and then accelerated to a two alarm blaze ”

Murray wrote, “Thanks to the quick work of first responders the fire was confined to approximately the first 20 25 feet of the south side of the original structure, from the rector’s office through the chancel and altar area to the first pew in the nave.”

On Friday, Murray said by email that after speaking with the church’s insurance adjuster, “The plan is to isolate the damaged area, get the rest of the building affected by smoke and water damage cleaned up so that worship services, programming and the St. Alban’s Daycare can be back and happening within 10 days to 2 weeks.”

An engineer estimated the cost of the damage at $250,000 to $300,000, Murray said. “A restoration contractor will do emergency maintenance on the damaged areas but the major renovation and rebuilding work will be put out for bids.”

It will likely take three months before the renovations are complete.

The congregation worshipped out of Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Westminster last Sunday, but it’s not yet known where future services will be held while they await repairs.
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