Despite suspicious fire, Paul Stefan Foundation moves forward with renovation

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A suspicious fire Oct. 17 at the Paul Stefan Foundation’s Regional Maternity Center in Orange appears to have been an attempt to stop the foundation from — as their motto says — “saving babies, one mom at a time.”

The fire, which started in one of the back rooms on the first floor, was discovered Monday morning after water from the sprinkler system was seen under the doors. A window was broken out. Co-founder Randy James received a call about the fire around 7:30 a.m. He estimates there was close to $100,000 in damage, contained to the first floor, and mostly due to water.

No one was injured.

“We are investigating the fire,” said Orange County Fire Marshall Craig Johnson. “We are not ready to label it until we clear the investigation.”

The center, in the old President Madison Inn, is being renovated into a social service shelter and soup kitchen. Once complete, it will be home to around 25 women and their children.

The most damage occurred in Phase 3, the education center. James said the project was in the planning stage, with some of the work already completed.

“We were just working on getting the sprinkler system company to come in this week to drain the system and make sure it’s all working,” said James. “The sprinkler system did its job and put the fire out right away. We were real happy with that.”

James said Phase 1 of the project, which includes seven bedrooms for pregnant women on the third floor, was completed and due to open this fall, but at the last minute they had to bring the fire escapes up to code, and ensure the fire suppression systems were functional. James said they are hoping to have the floor open by the end of the year.

“We might push it into January but we’re going to do everything we can do to make it earlier,” he said.

Phase 2, which includes 22 rooms, is in the middle of construction. That area incurred no damage.

Many donated items stored on the first floor were damaged by water, including furniture, mattresses, baby clothes, rugs, chairs and business equipment.

“We have the fire restoration team in there right now to clean up the damage,” said James. “Once that’s completed and we have the clean bill of health to get in, we will start the remodel” in the damaged area.

James said they have added additional security cameras and exterior lighting, and the local police are driving by more often.

Despite the setback, he said they are focusing on blessings and a silver lining.

“We may get more money and benefits to get this done even faster,” said James. “Nobody can stop this if it’s God’s will. We’re going to keep the good attitude and keep moving forward.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016

@eelliottACH