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It Takes A Village - religious meeting hall raised in just 10 days


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It Takes A Village

Hundreds of volunteers work together to raise a religious hall in under 10 days


By Amy McCurdy | San Ramon Patch


There’s a good old-fashioned barn raising going on right here in San Ramon.

It involves hundreds of volunteers from around the Bay Area.

And it’s been 20 years in the making.

The “barn” is actually a Kingdom Hall being built by the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Their goal is to have the building completed in just nine days.

Construction on the Tri-Valley Kingdom Hall Project, at 19453 San Ramon Valley Blvd., began last Friday. If all goes well, it will be finished by the end of the day Saturday.

“It’s a barn raising all right,” said Kevin McCullough, a Dublin resident who has been helping oversee traffic in and out of the site. He pointed to the structure. “Only, that’s a BIG barn!”

Volunteers from as far away as Santa Rosa and San Jose have been coming out to help. Last weekend, more than 300 people showed up on both Saturday and Sunday.

Nearly 200 have worked each day this week.

“They all take vacation time from work to do this,” said Dennis Tom, a long-time San Ramon resident and one of the local elders who, with McCullough, oversees site traffic.

Tom said there are volunteers who bring their particular skill set to the project, such as roofers, plumbers, electricians, mechanical engineers, and HVAC specialists.

“Talk about a diverse group of people,” said McCullough. “It’s amazing – no one is getting paid and they spend all day here working hard.”

Those that don’t have a particular trade have the opportunity to learn one.

“What’s unique about our project is that we’ll take unskilled laborers and train them so that they can take that trade to other projects,” said Tom.

Jeanne Grimes, San Ramon resident since 1977, is one of the volunteers. She works with her husband as a manufacturer rep for the automotive industry.

Grimes helped plant trees before construction began. Over the past few days, she has been installing rebar and assembling heating and air conditioning ducts.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “We’re a unified group of volunteers - we do this all over the world. We get along together and finish the work together.”

A local Regional Building Committee (RBC) leads all the main construction work, making recommendations to the local congregations. RBC’s are organized by Jehovah’s Witnesses in countries around the globe to oversee the construction and maintenance of their places of worship.

“Our biggest concern is safety,” said Tom. “We have safety talks in the morning, at midday, and we do a review of near-misses at the end of the day.”

Both Tom and McCullough have been involved with the project since its inception 20 years ago. The land was purchased in 1991 to accommodate the congregation’s growth.

“We saw that growth happening even 20 years ago,” Tom said.

The nearest Kingdom Hall is in Pleasanton, which now accommodates five congregations - two from Pleasanton, two from San Ramon, and one from Dublin - totaling approximately 250 members.

“Right now, we have to spread our meetings over two days because we don’t have enough space,” said Tom.

Once the hall is completed, three of the five congregations (San Ramon and Dublin) will meet at the San Ramon location.

An old farmhouse once sat on the property, but it was deemed unsafe and was torn down shortly after the land was purchased.

Then the long process of design, raising money, trying to obtain permits and bring in utilities, and negotiate boundaries with nearby homebuilders began.

The land sat empty for 18 years.

“We cleared the weeds,” Tom said, laughing. “That’s about it.”

In 2009, they started aggressively working with the city to get a conditional use permit.

They also reached out to the community.

“We held open houses at the Marriott and invited residents to attend,” Tom said. “We met with individual residents around the property to address any concerns they might have about the project. We even asked them what kinds of trees they would like us to plant along the border between the houses and the hall.”

A permit for the site work was finally issued in the spring of 2010, but due to heavy rains that fall and winter, there wasn’t much they could do.

“It was a pretty heavy winter,” Tom said. “We had to shut down from October to April. Then we started back up again.”

They finally got the building permit in August. The foundation was poured about three weeks ago.

“We’re really excited about this,” Tom said. “A lot of friends have moved away, but they still ask: ‘How’s the project going?’"

He said that some of the interior details, like carpets and seating, will be installed in the middle of November.

“We hope to have our first meeting at the end of November or early December,” Tom said.

Grimes, who has watched the project develop and progress since the beginning, said she can hardly wait.

“We’re excited to get it done – it’s been 20 years!” she said. “It’s going to be beautiful.”

A special thanks to Joel Johnson for the great photos he contributed for this article!

Article Source: San Ramon Patch

Visit the article source to see all 17 pictures!

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