The renovation work at First Presbyterian Church has been surprisingly similar to an archaeological dig. Among the items uncovered: cast iron pipes from the walls, used in the old heating and coolingsystem.Apieceofconcrete,with a yellowed 1920 newspaper clipping imbedded in it. Charred timbers from a 1891 fire that gutted the sanctuary. Horse hair stuck in plaster. A wooden nickel.
The Rev. Chuck Hasty, senior pastor, keeps a charred brick and the piece of plaster with the newspaper in his office.
“We were in dire need of attention and upgrade,” he said.
The downtown church, founded in 1830, is in the second of four stages of this overhaul. The total price tag is $14.3 million, with this second phase amounting to $6 million.
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Last Sunday marked the anticipated halfway point of worship in the ground floor fellowship hall, which has been transformed into a travelers’ motif.
Among the major upgrades in this second phase:
-- Stripping the floor of the sanctuary back to hardwood
-- Raising the floors in the Reception Hall (Johnson wing) building by 14.5 inches, to match the sanctuary level
-- Renovating the three floors of the education and music wing
-- Making the entire facility more handicapped-accessible
-- Lowering the ceiling and adding acoustical system in the gymnasium
Recycling is part of the overhaul. Where possible, original brick hardwood -- honey oak and mahogany -- is being used anew, notably in the sanctuary. Expanding blueprint
This phase of the project began in earnest last fall.
Comparing renovation decisions to an accordion, Hasty said: “It’s expanded back out in terms of what we’re tackling.” An initial conservative, less-costly blueprint has grown. As such, if you walk through the construction areas, you see exposed walls and floors and new rooms going up where they previously didn’t exist. Scaffolding faces the 11th Street side. Sub-contractors in hard hats cover all portions of the project. (When he tours the facility, Hasty wears a hard hat, too, but his bears the Presbyterian USA sticker on the front.)
This phase is expected to be completed by October. The contracting company is Batson-Cook.
An eight-member committee, led by Richard Bickerstaff Sr., has worked with Hasty through the process.
A seven-week sermon series on the Nehemiah, who rebuilt Jerusalem's wall in the 400s B.C., will start Sunday and will feature an accompanying devotional written by church member Lisa Powers.
"It's very accessible. Even the youth can use it," Powers said of the material. "It was gratifying, but anytime you put theological thoughts on paper, you feel very vulnerable." Major themes in the book: Nehemiah’s fear of God and his heart for the less fortunate.
To the pastor, one of the most surprisingly rewarding aspects of the overhaul of the buildings has been worshiping in the fellowship hall. Though considerably smaller than the main sanctuary -- seating about 320 instead of about 500 -- it has created more of a cozy feel than a crowded one, he said.
"We have discovered where you worship matters, but who you worship, and with whom, is more important," he said. A result has been a deeper trust and greater appreciation for each other, the pastor said.
A summer worship team looked into other temporary venues but decided it was “best to stay home,” Hasty said. Because of the displacement, Hasty has used the theme of navigating life through the wilderness, as in the Exodus story.
No weddings for the sanctuary were booked after June. As for summer funerals, First Presbyterian has been able to use the St. Luke sanctuary across the street.
"They've been wonderful neighbors," Hasty said.
The third phase, amounting to $700,000, will add more parking on the 11th Street side. This will come mainly from an as-yet razed YMCA building, which the church purchased in 2004. Once completed, the new downtown YMCA, across from the TSYS main campus, will accommodate the current gym members.
First Presbyterian’s fourth and final phase will cost $5.1 million. It will be a major interior refurbishment of the historic 1903 YMCA building on 11th Street, adjacent to the smaller brick building.
To put the numbers in perspective: Thirteen years after the church’s founding in 1830 the city’s earliest Presbyterians built a new building for $4,500 and installed a new organ $2,000.