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River Falls church unveils huge addition

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religion River Falls, 54022
River Falls Journal
715-425-5666 customer support
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

After beginning a major expansion and remodeling project in last June, the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 110 N. Third St., has finished its 12,500-square foot addition and invites the community to come see.

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Guests are invited to "stop by and say hi" during an open-house celebration 1-4 p.m. Sunday, May 6.

Pastor Chris Meyers says the church plans to cut a ribbon at 1 p.m., enjoy choir songs, give tours of the building, show a video history of the church, have "tons of food" in the new fellowship hall, and host several small-group activities, such as puppets.

Contractors, people on the building committee and church members will be there, celebrating the new space and fresh looks throughout.

Meyers said the sanctuary was the only part of the building the project did not involve, adding, ""We used to be an L shaped building and now we're a U-shaped building."

He explained that the church is blessed with a talented architect who drew plans for an addition that would be a mirror image of its 128-year-old counterpart.

Meyers said the greatest compliment so far has been that the building looks like it's always been there -- some people can't tell which one is the older structure.

Meyers praises "phenomenal" general contractor Derrick Construction, which he says did a great job -- working around church activities and enabling it to function as normal.

He admits it was a challenge to run in half of a space that was too small before the project started -- every room was multi-multi purpose, he smiles and says, "We laugh about it now."

The church's biggest change is the addition that houses a 300-person fellowship hall and has a big, functional kitchen.

The church needed a big space for is congregational meals, weddings, funerals and other gatherings.

Meyers said as a descendent of the pilgrims, it was important for the church to occupy the space before Thanksgiving -- the church tested the new room's capacity with a record crowd for that meal.

"We served about 300 people in 20 minutes," said Meyers.

He said the church plans for the hall to also be a community asset. Already some groups have used it to gather -- board members of the local Whole Earth Grocery met there, and the public library used the space for its 'Jello and hot dish cook-off.'

Meyers said the First Congregational will focus in the next year or so on gauging community needs and seeing how it can help. He mentions the ideas of potentially adding programs like child care or senior-care respite.

Other big changes came along with the addition.

First Congregational replaced an old chairlift with a modern elevator and installed bathrooms on the main level. Other technology includes a projector that can broadcast the services from the sanctuary when overflow capacity is needed.

The downstairs remodel brought more classrooms and a bigger youth room that Meyers said was sorely needed. He said the old space seated 10 people comfortably, but the church had about 45 young people attending classes, so lots of people sat on the floor.

The pastor said the room features an entire wall that is a wipe-off marker board and has been a "big hit" with people of all ages.

The project included reproducing in smaller scale, 34 pieces of artwork that hang in the fellowship hall and form a timeline of Bible stories. The smaller, movable versions make great teaching tools, he said, and kids enjoy learning with them.

Asked about challenges of the project, Meyers mentions the no-choice decision to raze the 1950s parsonage, after searching ardently-but-unsuccessfully for someone interested in moving it.

He points out that the church is landlocked in a residential neighborhood but was also adamant about keeping its existing green space.

He says at the time the project decision was made, there was great anxiety over spending the money during a recession, but everyone took a leap of faith. History shows that wasn't the first time, says the pastor. First Congregational took on a sizeable rebuild project after a fire during the Great Depression.

Building chairman and church member Bill Herris echoes what Meyers says about Derrick, the new building and the added capacity. The 3M retiree s happy to report the project came in on time and under budget.

Herris says the contractors made his job easy, but everyone took seriously the responsibility to deliver what had been promised, "Everybody I have talked to has seemed extremely complimentary," said Herris.

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