McCoy Architects LLC
Architects' rendering of Islamic Center of Murfreesboro shows plan for conventional mosque.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has broken ground on a new mosque after delays by a lawsuit, arson of construction equipment, protests over the project and contractors hesitant to submit bids.

The Center, which operates in a small building in the downtown area, held a ceremonial groundbreaking Sept. 28 and work started the next day on the 12,000-sq-ft first phase of what is planned as a 52,000-sq-ft complex.

S&A Constructors LLC of Nashville is the contractor; the architect is McCoy Architects LLC of Lexington, Ky.

“This has been 30 years in the making,” Saleh Sbenaty, a member of the Center’s planning committee, said. The center serves more than 1,000 members and their families, plus about 400 students at Middle Tennessee State University.

Its announcement last year drew protests from local residents, an unsuccessful lawsuit to halt construction, graffiti on a site sign, a telephoned bomb threat for Sept. 11 and arson that destroyed a piece of construction equipment brought in to clear the 15-acre suburban site. Three other pieces of equipment were doused with gasoline but not burned. Ole South Excavating of Murfreesboro,  owner of the equipment, did not return calls.

City, state and federal agencies investigating the incidents have made no arrests.

Center planners were surprised this year when less than 10 contractors contacted them after a call for bids, said Essam Fathy, chairman of the planning committee. They had posted the job on a local builders exchange.           

But 14 calls came in after local reports indicated a possible delay in construction from lack of contractor response and reported pressure from neighbors and churches. The arson incident “has to have an effect,” Fathy said.

However, Center planners were already negotiating with S&A Constructors, which got the $1.8 million job.

Tennessee’s construction industry has suffered in the recession, and the state’s economic  forecast is for slow growth through 2012, a new report by the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research said.