Staff Photo: John Bohn Pastor Ray Warren, left, with Tom LaSalle, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, center, and Matt Guerra of Dallas, TX, right, pose for a portrait at the construction site of a new building to be erected at Forest Hills at Mountain View Church in Snellville. The building will be used for Sunday school classes and church offices. LaSalle and Guerra travel the country, building projects for churches at cost, with no charge for labor. They live on site, in travel trailers while they work.
SNELLVILLE -- Tom LaSalle has become quite the popular man.
He and comrade Matt Guerra technically operate out of Oklahoma City, but spend the vast majority of their time living out of trailers. They travel the country -- latest stop Snellville -- as a sort of roving construction ministry, throwing up new buildings for independent, fundamental Baptist churches in need.
They do it with fee-free labor and at-cost supplies.
They stay busy.
"When a pastor gets somebody to work for them for free," LaSalle said this week, with a chuckle, "it usually doesn't take long for them to tell somebody."
The latest project for Cornerstone Baptist Builders lies on the Snellville campus of the Forrest Hills at Mountain View church, where ground was finally broken on Tuesday. At the request of Pastor Ray Warren, the crew is in the beginning stages of building a 5,400-square-foot structure that will cater to the church's growing Sunday school needs and provide more office space.
After they've completed the job, they'll go to Arizona, then to Florida, then to Colorado, then back to the Sunshine State. They have work scheduled as far out as 2016.
For the next several months, though, they'll be camped out in Snellville, completing a project that might not otherwise be possible.
"This presents a position where we can buy more product for the money we have, without us incurring any debt," Warren said. "From that standpoint it makes good business sense for us to do it this way ... If we have another economic downturn, we're not going to be in a position where we have to turn to the congregation and say, 'We need to raise this money or we're going to be thrown out.'"
Over the course of four to six months (depending on a number of factors), LaSalle, Guerra and, God willing, some good-hearted congregation members, will construct the new building from the ground up. Because the Cornerstone Baptist Builders are supported salary-wise by monthly donations from churches across the country, their labor is free.
LaSalle can get the same prices most contractors can on supplies, and doesn't upsell his clients.
That means Forrest Hills at Mountain View will end up paying, at most, half price for what might otherwise be an $800,000 project.
"To me, to have the building up is going to be a testimony to the community that something has happened here," Warren said.
During construction, LaSalle, Guerra and their families -- including Guerra's two young children, ages 9 months and 2 years -- will live on site at the church just off Dogwood Road. They'll stay in a pair of trailers parked in the church lot, and be ready to work 24 hours a day.
That typically means no long stretches of idleness between subcontractors' various schedules, which means a quicker timeframe for the overall project. Add to that scheduled work sessions for volunteers from the congregation and community, and construction tends to go quite swimmingly.
"When you're working for people, it's not always the best thing in the world," LaSalle said. "But when you're working with church people, it's amazing the spirit of people and the attitude and the excitement that starts boiling in the church. People get excited about coming out and helping."
Warren said this week he hoped his church would be using the new building by April. LaSalle agreed it would be more than possible, with one caveat.
"Unless we get 10 feet of snow here," he quipped. "Y'all don't get a ton of snow here, do you?"