SKOWHEGAN — It’s been more than six weeks since a hot water pipe burst inside the Centenary United Methodist Church, flooding the basement where the Community Clothes Closet has operated for the past 11 years.

The cost of repairing damage to the building is estimated to be more than $100,000. The ruined clothing constitutes a loss of another $27,000.

Clothes Closet volunteers shut down the operation and now are waiting for the insurance company to make good on its settlement claim, but it’s been six weeks and it still smells a little musty.

Meanwhile, the 50 or 60 families every week who rely on the free clothing have to go elsewhere or go without warm jackets, hats and boots.

“When you’re serving 60 families a week, you know there’s a need,” said Marion Wing, a co-director of the Clothes Closet with Amy Rouse. “I don’t know what people are doing for clothing.”

“We lost about 10,000 pieces of clothing,” Rouse added. “We filled a 30-yard dumpster with wet clothes. That went to the dump. It wasn’t salvageable. It flooded half the church and it poured down in the basement.”

In the church basement this week, the floors have been taken up and the ceilings taken down in places affected by the flooding, which happened Jan. 7. The wallboard has been removed 2 feet up from the floor because of water damage. Fans are circulating the air downstairs in an effort to dry everything. Salvaged clothing is piled high on tables and covered in plastic, waiting for the racks to reopen.

Even the church organ was damaged.

Upstairs in the chapel, the main doors at the front will have to be replaced because they warped from the force of the steaming hot water that Amy’s husband, Gene Rouse, a Skowhegan selectman, said flowed from the heating system for 12 to 15 hours before anybody knew what was happening.

“Probably about 7,000 gallons of hot, steaming water went through there from the return line on the baseboard heater,” he said. “The furnace runs at about 27 PSI. That puts a whole lot of water out.”

There are two bids to do most of the work on the building, one for about $66,000 and another for about $71,000. Construction could take six weeks.

“We want to fix floors, walls and ceiling. Anything above that would be extra. We don’t ask for a lot,” Wing said.

All of the clothing was donated, cleaned and displayed on shelves and racks in nine rooms in the sprawling basement. Everything was free — two bags per person, no questions asked.

A bin for donations of clothing outside the church is covered now, and no new donations are being accepted until everything is fixed and the agency can reopen.

The reopening initially had been scheduled for April 1, but with the delay in the insurance claim, that might have to be moved to May 1.

The closure of the Clothes Closet comes during a time when St. Anthony’s Soup Kitchen closed at the Catholic church downtown. The Federated church on Island Avenue has since stepped forward and is providing a free meal once a week from 4 to 5 p.m. every Wednesday at Tewksbury Hall, behind the church.

The soup kitchen closed is until the church can find a new volunteer coordinator. As of this week, there have been no takers.

The Skowhegan Community Food Cupboard continues to give out food as well, three days a week, from its building behind the Mr. Bubbles coin laundry on Waterville Road. There is a food pantry and thrift store in Bingham in the former Jimmy’s Market on Main Street. There also is a community clothes closet at the Seventh-Day Adventist church on upper Main Street in Norridgewock.

Wing said their church found an interesting way to make up for some of the loss: They held “undie sundie.”

“We lost all our underwear and our socks, because they were in bins that got wet,” she said. “Amy has done this thing for three years that we have ‘undie sundie.’ When you stand up in church and announce that next Sunday is going to be undie sundie, you get some looks.”

Rouse said the event involves parishioners going out and buying new sets of underwear — all sizes, all ages.

“It’s all brand new. They go and buy it,” Rouse said. “That’s what undie sundie is all about — fresh underwear.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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