CEDAR RAPIDS — After years of planning, fundraising and construction, congregants at a historic Cedar Rapids church celebrated their building’s $4.5 million face-lift on Sunday and now have further restoration efforts in mind thanks to a national grant.
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1340 Third Ave. SE, was designed by renowned architect Louis Sullivan and completed in 1914. The renovation more than a century later aims to make the building more welcoming, accessible and versatile, with more natural light and open spaces, said lead paster Sherrie Ilg.
That means upgrades to the main entrance, a welcome center inside a secondary entrance, an expanded gathering space outside the sanctuary, renovations to offices and other rooms, a large new space with stage and sound equipment for youth, a renovated nursery, a new gathering area for children’s programs and other improvements.
“We wanted to update our space for hospitality and to not be a barrier. Before, you walked into dark hallways and dated spaces, and people had trouble finding our front door,” Ilg said. “The heart of it was to be sure our spaces were accessible and true to the heart of ministry.”
The renovations were designed by Neumann Monson Architects, with offices in Iowa City and Des Moines, and completed by general contractor Rinderknecht Associates of Cedar Rapids with an eye to historic preservation, such as uncovering original wood floors and maintaining the plaster walls.
“Working with the Historical Preservation Commission here helped give us ideas for maintaining the historical integrity of the church. That’s been leading the design vision,” Ilg said.
The $4.5 million for the renovation was raised through a capital campaign in 2015; the majority of the funds came from congregants and from the St. Paul’s Foundation. The Robert and Esther Armstrong Charitable Trust also contributed.
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Another boost came on Nov. 16, when the Iowa Economic Development Authority awarded the church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, a $1.2 million historic preservation tax credit to offset the renovation efforts.
More renovations are planned. The church recently won a $250,000 grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places to improve the heating and air conditioning systems. The Sacred Places grant comes with a matching challenge: to receive the full $250,000, the church needs to raise an additional $500,000. The National Fund for Sacred Places is a program of the Partners for Sacred Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“They selected us for a couple of reasons. One, we are a national historic landmark, and the architectural significance is fascinating to many people. The other part is how we are connected to the community,” Ilg said.
Community engagement and an active congregation were two requirements for the Sacred Places grant. At St. Paul’s, that means services and outreach in Swahili and Kirundi for East African immigrants in Cedar Rapids, among other community service efforts, said Chad Martin, director of the National Fund, in a news release.
“We are thrilled with the opportunity to support this major restoration campaign. St. Paul’s is a truly unique building among America’s religious architecture, and we believe this project is of national importance for the stewardship of America’s sacred places,” he said.
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