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Graduating class passes test of fire

The seven seniors from Harvest Time Christian School are praying it doesn't rain today. A fire in April 1990 left church members, students and teachers at Harvest Time with no room to spare. If rain forces the outdoor graduation inside the newly constructed school building, the Rev. Allen Sayers said he's not quite sure how they'll manage.

The graduation class is tiny, but about 300 guests are expected to attend the 7:30 p.m. ceremony at the school on U.S. Highway 301.

"It's not a lot. But for us, it is," said Sayers, the principal of the school. He said he doesn't even know if he has 300 chairs for the guests.

If it rains, the ceremony will be held in the same room used for Sunday church services. Sayers said the school will set up a closed-circuit television monitor in the dining room downstairs for the guests who don't fit in the room upstairs.

The school has been making do with a new school building. Construction on the new building started soon after April 3, 1990. That's the day the Harvest Time Memorial Church and Christian School went up in flames as students, teachers, and parents watched and cried.

"The wind was so strong, the fire blew across 301," Sayers said. "The median was on fire."

He said he remembers parents driving through police roadblocks to pick up their children from day care at the church.

Sayers said the cause of the fire was never determined.

The new school is doubling as a sanctuary for Sunday services until the church is rebuilt.

This year's senior class is the first to graduate since the new school was built. The graduates acknowledged their senior year has been difficult because of problems with the fire, but they are proud of the way they have recovered.

"We spend six days out of the week there. This was home away from home," said senior Patricia Warren. "It was devastating. I came and the building was gone."

Students completed the spring term at other churches that offered space for classes. This year, school started three weeks late because the new building was not finished until October.

"It was trying," Sayers said. "I had a temporary office, but I had to visit students twice a day at the churches."

Sayers said he expects to rebuild the church as soon as possible. He does not know how much the new church will cost but said the new school cost more than $400,000.

Tonight, the congregation may get its money's worth.

"It will definitely be standing room only," Sayers said.