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Wall collapse in vacant row home damages roof of neighboring church in East Baltimore

A tarp covers part of the roof at the Christ United Methodist Church.
A tarp covers part of the roof at the Christ United Methodist Church. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

It's because of Bernard Norris' curiosity, the 83-year-old said, that he saw the accident take place at Christ United Methodist Church on Friday afternoon.

"If I see somebody tearing down a building, I'm going to stand there and look," said Norris, a congregant and janitor at the church on Chase Street in East Baltimore.

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So when the last wall in a rowhouse being demolished next door did not come down peacefully, but tumbled onto the church roof instead, Norris was watching from the church's back door.

Norris and the hundreds of other congregants are still waiting for a full assessment of the damage, the church's pastor, the Rev. Twanda Prioleau, said Tuesday.

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Norris and three others were in the church at the time, Prioleau said, but no one was injured. The damage has left the 19th-century building closed, she said, forcing congregants to go elsewhere for prayer.

A construction crew from the company K&K Adams had begun tearing down vacant rowhouses on the block earlier in the week, she said.

Dennis Stewart, K&K's accounting manager, said the company recognized the risk the wall posed. It was about one story taller than the nearest section of the church roof and stood only a few feet away.

So the company decided to dismantle the wall piece by piece instead of knocking it over, Stewart said.

"Even though we cut the wall," he said, it "decided it wasn't going to pay any attention to us as it fell."

The collapse caused part of the church roof to cave in and sent wooden beams and drywall clattering onto the balcony inside, Prioleau said.

K&K Adams was hired by East Baltimore Development Inc. to demolish the vacant buildings. The nonprofit group did not respond to requests for comment.

K&K Adams has torn down many of the city's thousands of vacant buildings, Stewart said. And while such rowhouses occasionally collapse on their own, accidents during demolition are rare, he said.

Prioleau said the insurance companies of the church and of K&K Adams are still discussing who will cover the cost of repairs.

With the church closed last weekend, about 20 congregants attended services at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Northwest Baltimore instead.

The Rev. Wanda Bynum Duckett, pastor at Mt. Zion, said she was happy to host the displaced churchgoers.

"When the call came, I said yes. There was no deliberation," she said. "We would've done it for anyone."

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Mt. Zion also hosted a funeral Monday that had been planned for the damaged church on Chase Street.

Prioleau expressed relief that no one was hurt in the accident.

"We can replace a building," she said, "but we can't replace if somebody lost a life."

She said she hopes the debris will be cleared from the interior by the end of the week so that regular services can resume Sunday.

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