FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — Leaders of the Chapel by the Sea, the oldest church on Fort Myers Beach, are pursuing a demolition permit as they grapple with the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Ian over a year ago.
The once picturesque Chapel by the Sea, known for its high ceilings grand organ and dolphin window, bore the brunt of Hurricane Ian's fury, resulting in irreparable damage that shook its foundation. The storm surge claimed rose to 11 feet, leaving the 37-year-old building in shambles.
Ron Flemming, a Fort Myers Beach resident, reminisced, "The church itself was nice, you could see the real high ceilings, they had a great organ."
Sadly, the cherished features of the church were lost in the havoc wrought by the hurricane.
Since the disaster, the 50% rule associated with the National Flood Insurance Program has kept the church in a state of uncertainty.
According to this rule, repairs or improvements cannot be made to a building if the damage exceeds half of the property value.
Flemming added, "I believe it's structurally sound, however with the 50% rule there's no way they can put it back together."
Another resident of Fort Myers Beach empathized with the church's plight, "It's very sad that it washed through, but at this point things that can't be rebuilt need to be torn down so that we can go forward and at least have a clean space," Ann Nick stated.
As the church's administrators decide on the specifics of the rebuild process after demolition, they emphasize that despite the physical loss, the congregation will continue. Their hope is to witness the rise of another house of worship on the same hallowed grounds in the future.
Currently, the church's services have relocated inland to Cypress Lake Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, providing a temporary sanctuary for the congregation. The timetable for the demolition is yet to be finalized, but the resolve to rebuild and rejuvenate remains steadfast.