Message from BEAR Chairperson, Kathy Kurkjian, following the 2/18/18 Congregational Meeting
After 5-6 years of working this project, we are “this close.” Documents on this effort go back to May, 2012! We started with a feasibility study, focus groups and several surveys. The need established then was not different from that decided by the committee that went before us even seven years prior to that! From the beginning we always said we needed to get work done with the historic commission, ensure that we would actually have septic system capacity and capability, and raise the money. A daunting set of hurdles to overcome. With two big hurdles down with the historic commission and the septic system design, the donation this fall of $900,000 makes a massive impact in that remaining challenge.
Two years ago, the Congregation expressed several concerns. We backed up to take some time to work those out. Today we are about to do a $6M project with a mortgage under $750,000. I’m telling you that is unheard of in Church construction projects. But, it was important to you to reduce that loan exposure. We heard concerns about long term staffing. Session is now working from two ten year models that give us the flexibility to return to two full time Pastors if we decided that is the best approach for our ministries. We’ve also settled in with our new interim Pastor and Terrie in her new role, and are achieving a level of stability in staff that will permit us to focus on this big project.
Let me bring you up to speed in detail and share what will be going on in the coming few months. As you heard earlier, we launched today, under Dale and Terri’s direction, one final push to bring this project off the drawing board and into the ground. We’ll be working on raising a little more money, but more importantly looking to bring everyone together to pitch in working together to make this happen. This drive will take place over the coming six weeks. My greatest joy will be in seeing that go on – everyone taking on some aspect of the task before us, and enjoying that fellowship and time of anticipation.
As to the list of other things underway. We are working hard on signing a five year lease with Georgetown Hill. This is important in the short run financials, but not so much so in the long run plan. The hardest part of this has been finding them a way to continue to operate during construction. If they can’t continue to operate at a profitable level during that year, the long term lease does not make much sense to them. They can’t afford to lose families because it takes some years to make up for that.
In March and April, we will be renovating the Parlor to a classroom and renovating the manse in order to add one more large classroom. This is necessary because we are moving the Parlor functions closer to the sanctuary where they should be and, as a result, are losing three classrooms in the process.
We have received the legal permission from the state’s attorney’s office to move 44 gravesites impacted by the construction. This will take place at the end of March over spring break. Our cemetery committee is doing great work to plan and prepare for this. The entire process will be respectful and under the watchful eye of a funeral director. Once we are done, the cemetery will be re-dedicated at a ceremony to be planned for May.
Final bids for the project will be sought and negotiated in March and April. We can’t do that sooner than 90 days ahead of breaking ground in order to ensure reliability of the numbers.
Using the numbers in the ten year plans, we are working on the package that will go to the Presbytery and the Presbyterian loan program to cover the construction loan and the longer term mortgage. We have already met with them and reviewed the numbers and they are very pleased with what they are seeing and encouraged us to go ahead and submit even before we have final costs.
All along the way, the dedicated Transition Commission is doing the detailed legwork to ensure we have a plan for our operations during construction, and to prepare us to move in following the completion of construction.
Once all these efforts are complete by late April, Session will step back and assess where we are. The main question will be, did project costs and final giving come in consistent with the assumptions in the ten year plans? Did we complete a lease with Georgetown Hill that supports the plan? Are we ready in all other respects? If comfortable with everything, Session with then vote to send the loan package to the Congregation for a vote. I have said all along, Session will never approve a package and plan that doesn’t feel is achievable and also address the major concerns raised by the Congregation. Yes, there are a lot of things that still have to happen, but the decision was made that, with that significant donation, we can proceed to work on conquering those final hurdles.
The target date for a Congregational vote is early May. If that is positive, then construction would begin in early June, and take about one year. June is the ideal start time with the school schedules but also for getting under roof before bad weather sets in. That’s a big reason why we have put ourselves under a bit of pressure to make this all work – the June timing.
So, that’s the landscape. In taking on all this hard work, we’re buoyed by the recent survey results that show really strong support for the building program. You can feel the energy building to push us to the final line – I hope you will find a way to be a part of that energy, and be a part of this truly once in a lifetime, exciting time in the life of our little country church on the hill.