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Florence Township church damaged in fire, finds new life with Life Center Academy

Florence Township church desecrated in fire, finds new life with Life Center Academy
Florence Township church desecrated in fire, finds new life with Life Center Academy 03:01

FLORENCE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) -- It was one of the largest fires in Burlington County's history.

The Fountain of Life Center in Florence Township engulfed in image forever etched in Pastor Matthew Boudwin's memory.


READ MORE: "God will help us through this," pastor says after church fire

RELATED: "We are resilient": Community vows to rebuild after church fire

"We really didn't know if we were going to be able to return here or not," Pastor Matthew Boudwin said.

Chopper 3 was back over the campus Wednesday, five months after the destructive fire.


The church has been torn down and in its place only a slab of concrete.


However, only a few feet away the halls inside the Life Center Academy are alive with students changing classes.


Only CBS News Philadelphia was invited inside as the school kicked off the 2023-24 school year and welcomed students back on campus.

"There was questions of 'oh are we going to be back today or are they going to have to push it back,' so being back here in a place that's very familiar to me, it's awesome to be back," a student at Life Center Academy, Jalen Davis said.

The Life Center Academy was connected to the church and as flames tore through the house of worship, firefighters were able to save the school.

Over the past few weeks, it's been a race against time to get the building ready.

Drywall has been installed where a hallway to the church once stood.


The building has been repainted and refreshed and even new flowers were planted outside.

"We wanted to make sure that this didn't feel like a disaster zone, but really a place kids were comfortable with coming back to school," Boudwin said.

Students finished last school year in a temporary building in Willingboro, but this is home.


The cross atop the church that was pulled from the ruins now stands tall on campus as a symbol of hope and resilience.

"Everybody just pulled together, and we realized we are one family," Principal Tracy Cossabone said.

"We're still vibrant as ever, growing and I think it's a win for the community to see that there is new life here," Boudwin said.

Boudwin told CBS News Philadelphia the school's enrollment has actually increased.

As for the fire, investigators say the cause has been ruled undetermined.

Church leaders are looking ahead and hope to have the church rebuilt in about three years.

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