Archive for Saturday, May 25, 2002

Unity, Wesleyan churches find new sites for congregations

May 25, 2002


After what must feel like 40 years of wandering, Unity Church of Lawrence is poised to move into new territory.

And the Rev. Sherry Schultz  the congregation's pastor  is elated.

So you'll have to forgive her for drawing biblical allusions.

"It's like the Israelites going through the desert. I'm Moses, you know, but I should like to get into the Promised Land," she said, chuckling.

She has good reason to be excited. After a nearly four-year search for a suitable site to replace Unity Church's cramped quarters in a circa-1891 building at 416 Lincoln Street, its members are readying to move into a new house of worship.

In late April, the congregation closed on a deal to buy the building owned by Lawrence Wesleyan Church at Ninth Street and Madeline Lane and a three-bedroom home  used by the church as an annex  across the street at 901 Madeline Lane.

Unity Church paid approximately $450,000 to acquire the buildings, Schultz said.

Wesleyan Church, which has occupied its present location since 1959, will have its last Sunday worship services in the building Sunday. Then it will spend about a week moving out of the church.

After some renovation work, Unity Church plans to have its first services in the building at Ninth and Madeline streets July 7.

Unity Church has already sold its old location to Lawrence resident Kathy Kirk for approximately $150,000, according to Schultz. The deal on the building at 416 Lincoln Street closed a few months ago.

Kirk is an attorney and conflict resolution mediator.

Nearly tripling in size

Meanwhile, Wesleyan Church is preparing to move into new digs of its own.

The congregation has purchased the old headquarters of Lawrence public schools, 3705 Clinton Parkway, for $905,000.

The sale of the two-floor building was approved Nov. 5. The deal closed, and Wesleyan Church took possession of the property Feb. 1. The site had been on the market since May 1999.

The district moved into a new $4.1 million office and warehouse building at 110 McDonald Drive in late 1999.

After vacating its old location, the congregation of Wesleyan Church will meet for several weeks in a rented space at Southwest Junior High School, 2511 Inverness Drive.

Then the church will probably have to meet for several more weeks at the Lawrence Holidome, 200 McDonald Drive.

The congregation is extensively renovating the old service center so it can accommodate a sanctuary and other needs of the church.

Wesleyan Church hopes to move into its new home in mid-July, according to the Rev. Nathan Rovenstine, senior pastor.

"But that's pretty iffy," he said, adding that the renovation  which he estimated could cost $150,000 or more  might take longer than expected.

The move to more spacious quarters should prove to be a huge boon.

The building the church is leaving has about 5,800 square feet, plus the three-bedroom house that serves as an annex. The new location offers approximately 15,000 square feet of room to spread out in.

That means Wesleyan Church won't have to do things like rent space for its Wednesday night programs, as it has had to at Sunset Hills School, 901 Schwarz Road.

"The building we're in now was built for about 125 people, and our average Sunday morning worship attendance is about 270. So we've had to do a lot of multi-use of space," Rovenstine said.

"We're not going to create any more ministries (at the new site). We'll just keep doing what we've been doing, but without having to borrow or double up on space."

Deal finally clicked

Schultz's lighthearted analogy between her church's search for a new home and the journey of Moses and the Israelites through the desert seems an apt comparison.

The process of looking for a better site for the church dragged on and faced several setbacks.

A couple of years ago, Unity Church made an $800,000 bid to buy the old India School on 23rd Street, but the Lawrence school board agreed to seek a final purchase contract with DCCCA Inc. of Lawrence for $860,000.

Then, in 2001, the church negotiated with Lawrence public schools for about nine months to work out a deal to buy its old headquarters at 3705 Clinton Parkway.

After the church submitted its $905,000 bid in February 2001, the city's fire marshal informed church leaders that city code required a sprinkler system to be installed in the basement, underneath what would become a sanctuary.

Fire Marshal Rich Barr estimated a fire-suppression system might cost $40,000.

Unity Church also discovered the building would require more extensive renovation, in order to become a house of worship, than it had originally realized. The church withdrew its offer late last year, because the site was a bigger project than its members could manage.

Finally, though, the congregation reached its Promised Land.

"They say the third time's the charm. We put in a bid on the India School, and we didn't get it. Of course, you know about the service center (on Clinton Parkway). And then this one clicked," Schultz said.

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