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Bonanzaville searching for replacement church

Bonanzaville will have a new landmark church after a fire ripped through St. John’s Lutheran on July 19.

But the tourist draw and coveted wedding venue could look very similar to the 125-year-old building that was destroyed.

After finding the cost to repair St. John’s Lutheran would be exponentially higher than what insurance will cover, the Cass County Historical Society voted on Thursday to raze Bonanzaville’s church and move forward with finding a replacement church from five area buildings that have been offered.

The board decided it will start with pursing an offer from South Pleasant Church in Christine, a building that looks almost the same as St. John’s Lutheran Church, which served as Bonanzaville’s tourism beacon since 1967.

President John Monilaws said Bonanzaville insured the building under the North Dakota State Fire and Tornado Fund for a cash value of $27,655.

“It’s deemed a total loss as far as our insurance company is concerned,” Monilaws said.

Monilaws said he obtained two rough cost estimates to repair the church. The first estimated the cost to be from $450,000 to $500,000 and a second estimate came in at more than $1 million.

A contractor estimated the repair would take at least 150 days, Monilaws said Thursday.

Before anything can be done, even before demolition, the structure must be checked for asbestos. If any of the dangerous material is found, abatement must be done, which will cost upward of $3,000. Fire restoration cleaning could also cost up to $50,000.

Along with the church in Christine, churches in Kragnes, Minn., and in Wyndmere, Maddock and Lamoure, all in North Dakota, contacted Bonanzaville officials, offering a replacement building.

Monilaws said the South Pleasant Church is not only close – about 21 miles from Bonanzaville – but would likely fit well on the existing foundation.

The Christine church recently updated the siding to steel and a new roof was installed.

A fund for the church will be set up at Bell State Bank & Trust, Bonanzaville interim Executive Director Emily Wehlander said.

As the board moves forward with demolition and a final decision on the replacement, the church’s steeple and bell will be preserved. Other salvagle furnishings will be restored.

Monilaws said he hopes to create a monument with the pieces, which would be placed near the replacement church.

The fire at St. John’s is believed to have started between the main floor and the basement ceiling. The West Fargo Fire Department was able to get the initial fire under control in the morning, confining the damage to the first 10 feet of the church, but the fire starting smoldering again that afternoon, causing extensive fire, smoke and water damage.

Fire investigators finalized a report on the fire and listed the cause of the fire as “undetermined.”

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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