It is 12 years in the making, and double the price they originally expected—but even still, the on Route 28 is celebrating the ground breaking and plans for a 6,500-square-foot addition to its property.
“We’re all looking forward to the space,” said Lead Pastor Dennis Rabineau.
The plans, Rabineau said, are for a Welcome Center, with about a third of the space to be used for offices.
“That’s what we visualize, with comfortable bright lights and an airy atmosphere,” he said. “There will be nice refreshments and seats.”
Rabineau said this will give congregants a place to gather and spend time before and after services.
“When you come to church, I think the first moment is important,” he said, “and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
When the chapel itself was first built in 1980, Rabineau said, there were 400 congregants and only one pastor.
“We didn’t worry about space at that time,” he said. “Now there are five pastors and 500 people. Space is more important.”
The building, Rabineau said, is currently 43,000 square feet, but there is only a small alcove outside the sanctuary for people to gather. So, he said, the chapel staff began discussing an addition about 12 years ago, hoping to add about 15,000 square feet.
“But we were stubborn about it,” he said. “We didn’t want to burrow to build.”
Instead, Rabineau said, they decided to try and save the money to spend—but that couldn’t happen fast enough.
“We realized we couldn’t build 15,000 square feet, so we thought we better scale back,” he said. “We decided on $6,500 square feet, but instead of $400,000, the price was $700,000 and we would get less.”
“That was a hard pill to swallow,” he added.
Still, Rabineau said, it made sense for the chapel to move forward with the renovations with the smaller square footage, so they began getting the permits necessary.
That process, Rabineau said, took about three years.
“The township gave us the permission to build,” he said. “And that’s when the economy fell, and we realized it was not smart to build.”
“We said that maybe we should put it on hold,” he added.
With that decision, Rabineau said, they wanted another three years before deciding to move forward, and suddenly had a $1 million price tag for the $6,500 square feet. The members of the chapel still did not want to borrow the money, but he said they realized it was either borrow or not move forward with the project.
“We decided to borrow to build,” he said. “It was a frustrating story, but exciting to build.”
Permits were also an issue, Rabineau said, because those from the local and state governments expire in a certain amount of time, and the ones for the Evangel Chapel were initially set to expire in June 2010. When the economy began to tank, he said, the governments provided an extension program because of building projects having to be put on hold.
The Evangel Chapel received an extension to begin the work until June 2013.
Rabineau said they are still hoping the economy will turn around, but they realized they needed to move forward with construction, and already held a ground breaking May 13.
“We still need to believe the economy will get better,” he said. “We are hoping this is a signal to the community that we have to believe in the future.”
Rabineau said the construction work is being done by Boss Art Builders, who have done similar work on other churches in the area.
“They are familiar with our kind of construction,” he said.
Aside from the welcome space in the new construction, there will also be space for offices. Currently, Rabineau said, the offices are scattered all over the building.
“We always lacked the unified space,” he said. “It is important for people to spend time together, and it is important for the pastors to spend time together.”
“This is critical for us in building our unity, and working together as a team of staff,” he added.
One pastor, Rabineau said, is currently in an unheated area of the building, and another doesn’t even have his own office.
“We’re desperate for new offices,” he said. “And the old offices will become additional ones for the future. The new space serves an immediate need.”
“We have three offices for the support staff, and the existing ones will be backup for future growth,” he added.
Plus, Rabineau said, the Welcome Center space will accommodate about 175 people at one time before and after services.
Rabineau said the chapel brings in people from across the area, including Somerset, Hunterdon and Middlesex counties.
The chapel, Rabineau said, has been around since 1951, with the physical space being built in 1980. Services were initially held in Somerville, when congregants rented inside another church, then they used the living room of a purchased house.
“Then they bought this land in 1979,” he said. “It was four acres, and now it’s seven acres.”
Still, Rabineau said, it is nice to be through with the permits and preparation for the construction, and now they are looking forward to the completion of the project, which will put the addition on the side of the building where the entrance to the sanctuary currently is located.
The plan is to eliminate about 12 parking spaces, but there will still be 200, and they will be creating a car port for drop-offs at the chapel.
Rabineau said they are expecting to be finished with construction around April 2013, and no services or activities will be disrupted before it is ready.
And, Rabineau said, they are working to move forward with the building debt-free, although they did have to borrow to get it started.
“Costs keep going up, and the interest rates are low,” he said. “We decided to bite the bullet and borrow.”
“But we are hoping to raise as much money as we can so we can borrow as little as possible,” he added. “We don’t want to be in debt.”