The recently refinished hardwood floor still gleams in the gymnasium of the Depew-Lancaster Boys & Girls Club, but near the door, you have to cut through a layer of soot to see it.
“This is all going to buckle, once it gets heat,” lamented David A. Hoch, the club’s executive director, referring to the water damage.
Hoch accompanied reporters and photographers on a tour of the facility Wednesday, to show damage from the New Year’s Day fire. He said the refinishing job was completed Dec. 30, two days before the fire.
Village and club officials who hosted the tour vowed there will be a future for the building. The gym and activity rooms below it are part of a concrete-block addition built in 1968 and sustained less damage than the old, wood-frame part of the Preston Street clubhouse, which dates to the 1920s.
“We will rebuild this thing; it will be bigger and better,” said Depew Mayor Steven Hoffman, who described the fire as a “tragic event that rocked our neighborhood.”
“There’s going to be great things to come out of this,” added Jeff Kupka, the club’s program director.
Some club programs resumed this week in the former Terrace Elementary School, just a block away.
But it will be months before anything can happen at the clubhouse, as investigators work to determine the cause of the fire – electrical is suspected – and claims adjusters sort out the insurance end of things.
Damage was previously estimated at $600,000 by Depew Fire Chief David G. Adamberger.
The building was empty when the fire was reported at about 9:30 a.m. New Year’s Day.
Kupka said the fire started in his office, on the first-floor in the old part of the building. It apparently spread upward through ductwork, devastating the second-floor game room.
The odor of charred wood lingers in the air, and holes in the roof helped illuminate the damage.
The spacious room offered Ping-Pong, Foosball, air hockey and bumper pool tables, many of which are littered with pieces of fallen insulation and other debris.
The floor is covered with a thick, soupy mixture of soot, and a firefighter steered foot traffic away from a hole in the floor, where a colleague fell during the firefighting effort, suffering minor injuries.
“Everything’s got to be cleaned up, removed,” said Hoch, the club’s executive director.
The Boys & Girls Club is a community institution, and someone noted that local firefighters’ knowledge of the building’s layout, acquired through their previous attendance at the club, helped them battle the blaze.
“If you grew up in this area, you spent some time here,” commented Julianne Renczkowski of Depew, who was among the group touring the building.
For Kupka, 41, the sense of loss goes deep.
“I can’t describe how I feel. You just don’t understand,” he said, responding to a reporter’s question. “It’s memories. It’s bonding. It’s community support. It’s overwhelming, actually.”
Kupka has been working for the club for 22 years, he said; full-time since 1996. But he said he’d been going there since he was 6 years old.
The club currently has about 250 members.
“Depending on the day and time of year ... we can have as many as 100 a day,” Kupka said.
Approximately 40 members have visited the temporary site at Terrace Elementary School the past few days, he said.
Since the fire, the club and village have received an outpouring of support, including offers of paint and heating units, and fundraising activities. Information about how to help will be featured on the club’s website: depewlancasterbgc.org.
Firefighters from the Villages of Depew and Lancaster will conduct a boot drive from 9 a.m. to noon on Jan. 19 to benefit the club.