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New First Congregational church nearing completion in Wolfeboro

REV. GINA FINOCCHIARO, at far right, welcomed church members into the First Congregational Church on March 28 to see how the new church building is shaping up. The end of June is the target date for completion. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
April 10, 2014
WOLFEBORO — The demolition of the First Congregational Church on South Main Street, across from Carpenter Elementary School, began on Sept. 24, 2013. Pedestrians, including school children and their parents and motorists cast a curious eye on the proceedings. Passersby have watched bricks and mortar crash to the ground, and they've witnessed the transformation of the space from the foundation up.

Now, a little more than seven months after demolition dust first filled the air, the new church sanctuary has taken shape. On March 28, church members were invited in for a look. Betty Coolidge, a member of the building committee, greeted visitors, along with North Branch Construction Project Superintendent Julianne Cardinal. Committee member Ken Marschner and the Rev. Gina Finocchiaro stood at the ready to guide groups of curious onlookers through the facility, upstairs to the balcony and down.

That look has been a long time coming. The congregation vacated its deteriorated church in February 2013. It's been a nomadic journey since. For Finocchiaro, " It feels like a pilgrimage – as we began our displacement in Anderson Hall (with a weekly morning service), and then in the fall moved to the Pinckney Boathouse (for a regular early a.m. service) and All Saints Episcopal (for late Sunday afternoon worship, and a monthly shared morning service), and now have settled into two morning services at the boathouse for the spring."

With construction expected to be completed by the end of June, "We are inching our way closer to normalcy and to a homecoming in our new building," she says.

Committee members Coolidge and Marschner, joined by Tom Schamber, Mark Lackey and Edie DesMarais, have been involved in weekly meetings with Cardinal and included in conferences with the architect, Ann Vivian, and North Branch Project Manager Jim Schwartzkopf.

Marschner describes the group's purpose as that of observing, asking lots of questions, and, in his case, taking "a zillion pictures to have a history of how the building is constructed" – just has he did when his own house was being built, knowing it would be covered over.

"Winter was an absolute bear as far as finishing the outside," Marschner commented in a phone conversation prior to the tour. "It's now enclosed to the point where insulation is going into the exterior walls, ceilings are ready to be done. The roughing work that follows – electricians, plumbers, carpenters, duct work crew members, sprinkler system installers, insulators," that's all coming along.

He enthuses about the harmony with which everyone has been working. A man might go by with two by fours over his shoulder and another comes along carrying ductwork, and they pass each other safely as they weave in and out of partitions. "There's a lot of team work," Marschner comments.

Yvonne Lackey, whose husband is a member of the building committee, says of her tour that it seemed that there is a space for everything. The sanctuary is 19 feet wider to accommodate more spacious aisles and improved handicap accessibility. A serving area for hospitality is located at the back of the sanctuary, and there is room for flexible seating when needed.

The church office is upstairs with a conference room overlooking Main Street, the pastor's study and space for administrative functions.

A function room and kitchen with additional entry from the back of the building is in the basement. Gone as unnecessary are the many support poles that interfered with movement and sight lines in the basement.

The back exterior wall, says Marschner, will bear the outline of a cross. Already, it is apparent to passersby that the front entrance is closer to the street. The site work, sidewalks and lighting will all be in place in due time.

Acknowledging some trials and tribulations along the way, Finocchiaro adds that the congregation is "…immensely grateful to Brewster Academy for space to worship, to All Saints Church for worship, storage and collaborative endeavors, and to St. Katharine Drexel for occasional worship space, and for shared youth ministry, in addition to many individuals in town."

Finocchiaro reflects, "We have stretched ourselves, and grown in faith through these months in so many ways. Yet, we look ever forward to rededication of new holy space, great celebration, and opening our doors wide to the community on whose shoulder we have firmly stood this last year and more."

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