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Completed church expansion project brings new opportunities


October 06, 2010
After five years of discussion and over a year of actual construction, the Gilford Community Church has completed its expansion project.

The project included the construction of the Gilford Youth Center by the church on Potter Hill Road, the restoration of a utility building with a garden by the driveway, a double-sized sanctuary within the church, and the Fellowship Hall downstairs.

The nursery school playground, which dates back to 1972, was also enlarged, and a more accessible, shared driveway between the library and church was paved with porous material.

The church facility itself dates back to 1830, and was in need of restoration and additional space.

Pastor Michael Graham and Walter Flinn, chair of the expansion board, helped to make the project possible, but said it would not have been possible without the community's support.

"The community benefits from this, so they were all behind the project," said Graham. "One family gave a large donation and over 200 church members and organizations donated funds."

Graham said the need for an expansion within the church's sanctuary has been an issue discussed for half a decade, as well as the need for a youth center especially for children in the after school hours.

"Either we had to lower our service or make the sanctuary larger. We were at capacity," said Graham. "Gilford is a small town, and as with many small towns, it didn't have enough space for non-profit organizations (for which) the church has always opened their doors."

In June, 2008 the expansion board voted to go forward with the project, and the Gilford Youth Center was tackled first, with completion in July 2009.

The issue of space within the sanctuary was then addressed, and when construction started, Graham and his church members patiently held services over at the Gilford Elementary School.

"It was amazing how positive the congregation remained even when switching locations. All those things that could have been an inconvenience were instead a warm embrace," said Graham.

In 2009, Graham was able to bring the congregation back to the church, and in November of 2009, Governor John Lynch attended a celebration and officially dedicated the Youth Center to the town of Gilford.

While the outcome of Architect Peter Stewart's design for the church expansion and Youth Center was award winning, both Flinn and Graham expressed that the expansion focused on accommodating the congregation and community, while the aesthetics of the building was just a bonus.

Flinn explained that the expansion was funded on the basis of an outreach program, and that congregation members and the community helped to make the project possible with their support and generous donations.

"I am pleased the project is over for utilization purposes. A variety of people are using the Youth Center and the Fellowship Hall for very worthwhile functions," said Flinn. "It's great that the project is over, and it is great that it's being utilized."

Graham added that while they have always had a nice church, now they have a "spectacular" Youth Center, which has been utilized 300 plus hours per month. He said many of the organizations using the facility are non-associated programs that perhaps had nowhere else to meet before.

While the project appeared to be slightly behind schedule, Flinn said setbacks were not the case, but as with any project in an older building, life safety issues and codes had to be updated. Flinn said this part of the project was somewhat expensive, but extremely important to do right the first time around.

Since the completion of the new sanctuary, numbers increased by 10 percent in 2009, and by 20 percent throughout 2010. The two Christmas Eve services skyrocketed from 350 in attendance in 2008 to 537 in 2009, and Easter service numbers were able to continue on with one instead of two services, at an average of 440 per year.

The use of the church and youth center facilities after the majority completion of the expansion project certainly met expectations, although the community cannot help but comment on the new design of the facility.

In 2009, the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce honored the church with the Golden Hammer Award, and the Lakes Region Planning Commission recognized the GYC with their Award of Excellence for all the facility has to offer to not only church members, but to members of the community.

Graham gave kudos to the church's neighbors as well.

"The library is a wonderful partner and it is great to share the (permeable pavement) driveway and share events such as Heritage Festival. It has really created a campus. We are in the hub of Gilford," said Graham. "It's a great asset and a great location by the schools, the library, the village fields, and more."

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