Trinity Lutheran Church of Watertown broke ground Sunday on Phase I of a long term expansion project that will eventually include accessibility improvements, heating and cooling upgrades, a much larger fellowship hall, and an expansion of the church’s education wing.
Phase 1, according to congregation president Adam Rowan, will focus on accessibility and infrastructure. Phases II and III, which the church hopes to complete a number of years down the road, will include some of the bigger ticket items.
“It’s an exciting time,” Rowan said. “The membership at Trinity is nearly unanimously behind the project. It’s been a total team effort.”
Trinity’s plans have been a long time in the making, and they likely will take a long time to fully execute as well. After Phase I is complete, the church will begin to the efforts to raise money for the future phases. The hope is to start Phase II within the next 5 to 10 years.
“We’ve been looking at building off and on for the last 10 years or so,” Rowan said. “Things have really hit the ground running in the past year. We began our formal capital campaign in January, and were able to hit our fundraising goals for Phase 1 when our capital campaign concluded in May.”
Phase I will include the relocation of the church’s office to the front of the building on the south side, making them more accessible for visitors. Handicap accessibility will also be added to the south side of the building, and an elevator will be added to the north side to make all 2.5 levels accessible by elevator.
The heating and cooling system will also be updated to include air conditioning for the entire building, and security upgrades for the preschool will also be added, allowing that wing of the school to be blocked off during school hours.
“With Phase I specifically, it will allow more people to come access our church and use our facilities, and explore the offerings we have,” Rowan said. “We have members in wheelchairs and elderly members who just can’t get into worship very well with our current setup.”
Phase II of the planned improvements includes a much larger main-level fellowship hall on the south side of the building. The existing house on the property will be removed and a new service drive will be created. Phase III improvements are planned to include new classrooms on the lower level to help expand the church’s preschool.
Pastor David Weeks said he was most excited about a youth room that will be included in later stages of the renovations. In general, Weeks said he hopes the church’s projects will serve a wide-ranging purpose.
“We’re really excited,” Weeks said. “When we talked about what to build, we thought not only about what Trinity needs, but also what Watertown needs, and how we can serve the community.”
The larger fellowship hall was among the only concerns raised last week when the Watertown City Council unanimously approved the site plan, the conditional use permit that allows the church to operate in a residential neighborhood, and a variance that will allow the church to reduce its south-side setback from 30 feet to roughly 20 feet during future phases of the project.
The concern was that the larger fellowship hall could enable to the church to hold bigger events — such as wedding receptions — that could potentially cause traffic problems or other concerns for neighbors. As Watertown’s planning consultant Mark Kaltsas pointed out, this planned fellowship hall is unique in that Watertown doesn’t have any other reception halls that large in a residential areal.
As originally presented, the conditional use permit included a provision that would have required the church to provide two weeks advance notice to the city whenever it was holding larger, “non-worship” events. The church expressed concerns about not knowing of some larger events — such as funerals — that far in advance, and ultimately the city council dropped that provision altogether when it approved all of the church’s requests.
Weeks drew laughs at the meeting when he pointed out to the city council that the church’s non-alcoholic wedding reception policy tends to disperse those gatherings well before the wee hours of the morning, and he also assured the council that the church has every intention of being a good neighbor.
“It is our goal and desire to be good neighbors,” Weeks said. “We want to do nothing that would upset our neighbors. We’re there to serve them.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]