Church fire

The Hermiston Seventh-day Adventist Church is preparing to demolish their church building that burned in order to construct a new building on the same site.

The Hermiston Seventh-day Adventist Church is ready to rebuild a year after fire gutted their building on Highland Avenue.

The church plans to tear down the old building and build a slightly larger, more modern-looking church on the same lot. Demolition of the old church will begin in the next two to three weeks. Construction on the new building will take eight to 10 months.

“It’s going to be awesome,” contractor Mark Black said. “I’m excited about it.”

Black, manager of Advantage Construction Management in Walla Walla, is an Adventist himself and was anxious to help the church go through a design-build process that would help them save money and get what they wanted.

“This is a small project for me, but it’s very important to me and to the members,” he said.

The church burned down in June 2018 due to a lamp left on overnight near a wooden table. Umatilla County Fire District Fire Marshal Scott Goff at the time described is as a “long, slow, smoldering fire that kind of cooked the whole building.” While the building’s exterior looks mostly whole, the interior is a mess of charred wood, broken glass and melted plastic that could not be salvaged.

Sid Rittenbach, chairman of the church’s building advisory committee, said the Adventists had hoped to tear down the burned building sooner, but had to leave it up until they were done negotiating with the insurance company.

They will get money for replacement costs for the 1960s-era building, but the settlement isn’t enough to cover bringing the new building up to modern codes for fire prevention, accessibility and energy efficiency.

Seventh-day Adventist Church 8/13/19

The side of the Seventh-day Adventist Church building on Highland Avenue shows signs of fire damage following a fire that gutted the building in June of 2018.

Rittenbach said the congregation also plans to add on some extra space, including a fellowship hall with a kitchen that could be used for cooking classes and other health-focused events. There will be classrooms, the large sanctuary, a small chapel for weddings, space outside to resume the annual Journey to Bethlehem pageant and a wide entrance to the grounds located in a safer place than the current Highland Avenue driveway.

“There will be lots of windows to let in natural light,” he said.

A large pine tree must be removed to accommodate the construction, and the church hopes to time removal so that it can be used as this year’s city Christmas tree on the festival street downtown.

Their goal is to raise about $700,000 from church members and community donations toward the total project cost of more than $4 million. People can donate by going to, clicking on “Online Giving” and labeling their donation for the “local building fund.”

“Adventists are faithful tithe-payers and very benevolent, but this is still a crushing burden for the organization, so it’s great when the community recognizes that and steps in,” Black said.

In the 14 months since the fire, the Seventh-day Adventists have been meeting at Hermiston Junior Academy at 1300 N.W. Academy Lane. They have also been able to continue some services at the small community building next to the burned church.

Guy Oltman, who helps with the Open Table program, said some people were under the impression that charitable programs like Open Table had stopped after the fire.

Instead, people can still come and get a free dinner, no questions asked, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. each Wednesday at the community building at 855 W. Highland Ave.

“We target people who are struggling financially, but it’s a free meal for anyone who so desires and feels the need for the assistance,” he said.

Hermiston church Exterior 7-25-19.jpg

This conceptual drawing shows what the new Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hermiston will look like.

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