First Ministry Center gets made over

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 10, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
Does it qualify as a miracle when a church takes on a major renovation project and completes it way under budget and ahead of time?
First Baptist Church finds itself in the enviable situation of finishing up the first phase of renovation of its First Ministry Center on North Fulton Street — formerly the YMCA — for about $400,000, or less than 55 percent of the expected cost of $750,000.
First Baptist dedicated the renovation of the main level of the building Jan. 29. The project began in August of 2001.
“We didn’t think it would be done until spring,” said the Rev. Kenneth Lance, who noted that church members had been generous with both their time and money.
Even before the renovation, the church had been utilizing the ample space at First Ministry Center. It’s been home to the Good Shepherd Clinic for some years now. The church has also been taking advantage of the building’s athletic facilities, using them for the Upward basketball and cheerleading program.
And now, the center has more useful space than before.
The newly renovated center will serve many purposes for the First Baptist congregation. It will be the venue for Sunday night services and some Sunday school classes. The large and well-equipped “Rooftop” room is a welcoming space for middle and high school students’ youth group meetings. Singles and support groups will also meet at the center.
At the dedication, Lance thanked all those who had contributed, and he reminded everyone that there was still work to do.
“Just because you see a completed building…we still want your money,” he said, prompting a wave of laughter.
He praised those involved with bringing in the project “way under budget.”
He singled out Ron Horton, chairman of the church’s board of trustees as the one who deserves the most credit for making the renovation happen.
“We’ve got men in this church who are so talented,” Horton said, including Guy Wirt, who, like Horton, devoted numerous volunteer hours to the project.
The church didn’t borrow any money for the project, Horton notes. It was decided that the church would proceed with work only when funds were available. A capital campaign got a significant jump start with an $180,000 estate bequest.
“We knew we could start with that,” says Horton, a retired East Rowan High School administrator who used to run a construction company with his brother.
Since the building is so large, the church knew it couldn’t undertake the entire renovation at once. Lance believes there will be two more renovation phases to come.
The building was bought by the church for $1 million in 2000 before the Y moved from its downtown site to its new location on Jake Alexander Boulevard. The church didn’t take possession of the facility until 2003, Lance says.
The building, Horton says, “looked pretty bad” before renovations started.
There were definitely some challenges. The first floor was designed “like a rat’s maze,” Lance says. The new space is much simpler to navigate.
Charles Johnson, director of the YMCA from 1988 to 2000 and a member of First Baptist, was on hand for the dedication.
“It’s totally changed,” he says. “It’s wonderful. It’s a blessing. Ron and the fellows who helped him did a super job.”
Horton says he was often able to get a good price for particular aspects of the project, sometimes getting things done for just the cost of materials and labor.
The church launched the project at an opportune time, Horton says, with a weak economy actually working in their favor.
Horton is gratified that the church was able to give employment to people who had been out of work.
One man showed up looking for medical care at the Good Shepherd Clinic, held weekly at First Ministry Center. Turns out he was an experienced carpet installer.
“He was totally out of work and broke,” Horton said, noting that First Baptist was happy to hire him.
A Richmond businessman, the brother of a First Baptist member, donated $50,000 worth of carpet for the project, Horton says — an unexpected blessing.
Although many areas are now carpeted, the entryway’s original terrazzo tile remains and has been beautifully refinished.
The Rev. Rod Kerr directs a thriving singles and support group ministry at First Baptist, and those programs will have a home in the new center. Support groups will meet there Monday nights, Kerr says.
The new singles room used to be a Young Life office during the building’s YMCA days, Kerr said. Now, it features tables and chairs and can accommodate lunch meetings and casual get-togethers.
Lance believes the refurbished center will allow the already thriving singles ministry to grow.
The church wants the entire community to feel welcome there.
“We want to be a community center where people can come,” Kerr says, whether it be to participate in the Upward basketball program or to find comfort and fellowship at support group meetings.
Community groups interested in using First Ministry Center for events can call the church at 704-633-0431.