Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
Since 1871, this modest church stood in a residential-commercial city neighborhood. An underground transcontinental laser-cable run right in front of the building motivated AT&T to acquire the property for demolition and new construction of a one-story circuitry building.
To our firm, the loss of even a modest, historic community-use structure from the heart of an aging neighborhood signaled long-term community destabilization potential. Recognizing superficial structural deterioration, the City Building Official had readily granted a demolition permit without community review. Looking into this, we initially worked pro-bono out of concern for neighborhood impact. We commissioned a structural engineer who refuted the City’s stability concerns, and following several weeks of discussions with the City and AT&T project proponents, we discovered the demolition permit was improperly issued. Faced with going through proper zoning and demolition hearings, AT&T eventually abandoned the project.
Publicity about this brought a newly-forming Mennonite congregation to us, inquiring about re-using the building, and we put them in contact with AT&T to work out a sale. With a new user-owner seeking renovation plans, we became architects for the adaptive use. The original structure was largely retained, structural repairs addressed, and the church was beautifully, affordably adapted to meet the new congregation’s needs.
Some ten years on, they engaged us again to plan the growing congregation’s education and fellowship addition. With few funds in hand, the congregation anticipated a disappointing utilitarian box would be built on a tight site at the rear of the church. We showed them how a central courtyard building might be designed to fit the very limited site, and how this could better serve their community and international orientation, adding a focal point outdoor activity space, and significant improvements for the narrow side alley. Positive solar orientation and convenient new rear and handicapped access entries shaped the building form at the core of our solution. Our 3-D physical model helped to visualize and inspired the growing congregation to take two more years for fund-raising necessary to realize the expansion. Our final plans and construction drawings directed completion of the new addition.
With “community” in their name, this congregation has added immeasurable value to the neighborhood, including property stability, renewed positive activities and local traffic, and a renovated community meeting space for the area.