Broken water pipes cause damage at Hillsboro MB Church, Tabor College

Clean-up under way after sub-zero temperatures over Christmas weekend cause widespread damage

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A broken pipe behind the Hillsboro MB Church stage flooded most of the church building Christmas weekend. The flooring on the stage was removed the next week and it took two weeks for the building to dry sufficiently for the total damage to be determined. Photo: HMBC
UPDATE: Hillsboro MB Church reports Jan. 10 that it has been determined that all the carpet will be replaced as well as some furniture, electronics/sound equipment and personal items. Walls, however, do not need to be replaced.

Hillsboro (Kansas) MB Church and Tabor College dormitories sustained significant damage Christmas weekend when water pipes broke due to sub-zero temperatures.

The majority of Hillsboro MB Church’s 40,000 square-foot building was flooded when a pipe behind the sanctuary stage broke Friday evening, Dec. 23, at about 7 p.m. The water spread across and over the stage into the sanctuary seating area with as much as six inches of water accumulating at the bottom of the sloping sanctuary floor.

Water also moved down a hallway behind the stage and into the main foyer, church offices, bathrooms, fellowship hall and the children’s wing, including the area used by Kids Connection, the daycare run by the church. Water flowed outside the building as well, flooding part of the church parking lot, creating a sheet of ice.

The damage was discovered at 9:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve.

HMBC lead pastor Jeremy Matlock describes walking through the building that morning. “I could tell by his (the trustee’s) tone when he called that this wasn’t going to be good,” says Matlock. “It was surreal.”

Although faucets throughout the building had been left dripping to prevent pipes from freezing, Matlock says the pipe that burst was part of a different system.

HMBC leaders moved the Christmas Eve service to Tabor College. While the congregation gathered that evening, a professional cleaning company was onsite, working to dry out the flooring and drywall. Company employees also treated the walls for mold and used as many as 170 dehumidifiers to help dry the building.

“It could have been worse,” Matlock says. “We were assuming we would need to cut the walls but they’re very hopeful that won’t happen because of the chemical injected in the walls and how quickly the fans were working. They sucked up the water while we were doing our service.”

Monday morning when Matlock returned to the church building, “it was loud with the fans running and chaotic. You could hear the squish, squish, squish when you walked on the floor,” he says.

Volunteers were busy tearing up the stage, revealing the Bible verses members of the congregation had written on the cement stage when the building was constructed 15 years ago. Because the carpet and floor coverings throughout the building will be replaced, the congregation will again see the verses they wrote on the floors of the building constructed following a 2004 fire that destroyed their previous building.

As they waited for the building to dry, church staff and volunteers evaluated office, classroom and daycare supplies and furnishings for damage caused by the inch of water that covered most of the floors.

Fortunately, the pews were not damaged because they are constructed of hard wood. Instruments on the stage at the time of the pipe break, including the pipe organ, piano and guitars, were not damaged. Instruments in cases on the floor, sound equipment on the floor in front of the stage and electrical outlets were damaged.

When asked what has been encouraging since the congregation has again experienced loss, Matlock says, “The support of people. We had a lot of people reach out to volunteer, even from Ridgepoint Church (a USMB congregation in Wichita, Kansas). Churches have said if you need space we’ll help you out. That’s been really sweet, really encouraging.”

In response to questions from the congregation and others about a renovation timeline, Matlock says there are more questions than answers.

“We don’t know the extent of the damage, how difficult it will be to get supplies and how quickly a contractor can begin,” he says. “The spirit of the congregation is really good. I’m impressed with everyone’s attitude. There is joy in the midst of trial, and I’m excited about what God is doing and how he will use this.”

For now, Kid’s Connection, the HMBC daycare that serves about 40 children, has moved to HMBC’s youth/adult wing and reopened this week. Because the daycare can stay in the same building, receiving a temporary emergency license from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) was easier and faster than relocating to a new location.

HMBC junior and senior high school youth groups will resume this week, meeting at the church on Wednesday evenings in their normal locations.

Hillsboro United Methodist Church, located two blocks south of HMBC, has offered their facility for the children’s midweek Bible classes, which will also begin this week. The Methodist church will be the site of midweek meals should Wednesday evening meals resume.

HMBC held its Christmas Eve service in Richert Auditorium on the Tabor College campus, and the congregation will continue to meet in Richert Auditorium for Sunday morning worship services. Nursery and Children’s Church are available during the worship service, but children’s Sunday school classes have been discontinued. Adult classes are meeting at Tabor prior to the morning service.

The Shari Flaming Center for the Arts will also be the location of HMBC’s annual Valentine Extravaganza, an outreach event that typically draws 400 people. In fact, this year’s location may mean that more people can attend, says Matlock.

Tabor College residence halls also sustained water damage from broken pipes during the Christmas break. Photo: TC

While Tabor College was quick to open its doors to HMBC over the Christmas break, the college also sustained widespread damage in the Men’s Quad, including California, Oklahoma, and Nebraska Halls, when multiple water lines burst.

These older halls in the Men’s Quad are heated with a boiler system where the copper pipes are thin, making them susceptible to freezing in low temperatures. Multiple rooms will require the replacement of sheetrock, doors, furniture and carpet.

Minimal damage also occurred in the newer Townhouse I when a fire sprinkler in the attic froze.

Despite the structural damage, the impact on student belongings was isolated to only a few rooms. Students in affected dormitories were relocated to empty rooms in Nebraska Hall. New Year’s Day community volunteers helped college personnel transfer students’ belongings from the damaged rooms to the available rooms so that repair work could begin.

“I am so proud of Terry Ens and the facilities team and Dr. Frank Johnson and Student Life who are working tirelessly to prepare rooms for students when they return in January,” President David Janzen is quoted as saying in a press release. “We are very thankful that a new residence hall is under construction, and we look forward to having newer facilities available for our students as soon as Summer 2023.”

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