First Congregational Church Building Future Home of Conservatory Programs
Leaders of Baldwin Wallace University and the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Berea have finalized an agreement that will permit the College to acquire and renovate Church properties at 33 Seminary St. and 17 and 19 Church St. to secure the church’s future and provide a much-needed expansion of its Conservatory of Music.
Church/Conservatory Connecting Building
Church/Conservatory Connecting Building
The $2.4 million sale also includes an option for the Church to obtain two College-owned lots on Front St. and temporary use of BW facilities for Church services during a possible construction period.
In a jointly issued announcement, BW President Richard Durst and Church President Dennis Stocker acknowledged the open and candid process that had helped facilitate the discussion between the Church and College and the decision by the congregation to approve the sale.
“We are convinced that this decision will have significant benefits for the First Congregational Church and its members, for our Conservatory of Music, and for the community of Berea,” said Durst. “I believe we all are eager to move ahead with new construction and renovation that will enhance the program offerings of two of Berea’s longest-standing citizens.”
The Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music currently enrolls about 300 full-time students and educates thousands of area residents through its outreach programs headquartered in Kulas and Merner-Pfeiffer halls. Expanding and renovating those facilities is a major component for Transforming Lives: The Campaign for Baldwin Wallace University, which currently is underway.
Berea’s First Congregational United Church of Christ was founded by abolitionists in 1855. Construction of the church’s historic facility at 33 Seminary St. (immediately south of the Conservatory’s Merner-Pfeiffer Hall) was begun about 1870, making it the oldest standing church building in the city. While part of the United Church of Christ (which is headquartered in Cleveland), the local church is autonomous and is ruled democratically by its membership.
The First Congregational Church is well-known in the community for its day care program and Church Street Ministries, an ecumenical outreach program founded in 1994 to meet human needs across the county through counseling and guidance for refugees and the homeless and intervention for at-risk and chemically dependent youth.
“The Church will continue to search for new and expanded ways to carry out its ministries to Berea and metropolitan Cleveland,” Stocker said.
Since 2005, BW has rented a portion of the Church space for its music therapy and music outreach programs. College officials had approached First Church members in early 2007 about possibly selling of the entire facility. College leaders addressed the congregation that fall and members of the congregation voted Dec. 9, 2007 to authorize their leaders to negotiate terms of a possible sale to BW. The 225-member congregation voted June 29, 2008 to pursue and finalize the sale of the church facility.
City approvals for the project now are in place. Plans for renovation of the three church buildings and construction of a building to link them to the Conservatory’s Merner-Pfeiffer and Kulas halls were presented and approved by Berea’s Historical Architecture Review Board and the Planning Commission this winter.
As part of the agreement:
* BW has acquired the church properties at 33 Seminary St. and 17 and 19 Church St.
* For at least three years, the Church will have access to BW’s Lindsay-Crossman Chapel for Sunday and holiday services as well as special occasions.
* The Church may choose two College-owned lots at 311 and 315 Front St. as a location for a new building or take an undisclosed additional amount of cash. If the lots are selected, the College and the Church will work jointly to develop the site and address parking and drainage issues.
* A 40-year deed restriction will require that the church exterior be maintained in its historical condition and that it be used solely for College and higher education purposes.
Plans call for the congregation to vacate the property in June and for asbestos abatement—the first step in renovation—to begin.