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First United Methodist Church facility completes expansion

Dedication ceremony, grand opening Oct. 21
The brand-new sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church in North Liberty. The roughly 6,000 square-foot space was designed to seat 450 people and features new audio equipment and LED screens. It provides the church its first dedicated sanctuary for worship, which will be able to host weddings for the first time in the church’s two-decade history. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– One of North Liberty’s most prominent churches has undergone an ambitious expansion to meet the needs of its growing congregation.
First United Methodist Church, located at 85 N. Jones Blvd., plans to celebrate the milestone with a dedication ceremony and grand opening this weekend.
“We have essentially tripled the size of this facility,” explained Glenn Siders, chair of the building committee. This included renovating the entire existing structure, and adding a child education wing, an adult classroom wing and a sanctuary, expanding the facility from 11,000 square feet to 33,000 square feet.
Siders said planning the project had been a 12-year process. Construction was slated for one year but was extended about two months. The church achieved substantial completion in August, according to fire department standards, and is currently occupied. A few punch list tasks remain, including landscaping and painting, for the $4.5 million project.

Improved safety

The church has seen its share of operational changes with the reconstruction. While the previous facility was largely self-regulated, with one entrance, the new building has multiple access points, and occupants now wear badges during daily program hours. The facility has introduced a fire sprinkler system, a new fire alarm system and a video security system with 10 cameras. “It’s been a real educational curve for us,” remarked Siders, who’s been with the church for about 18 years.
A new security system allows daycare staff to lock down the area with the push of a button in an emergency. The daycare corridor also serves as a tornado shelter area with the ability to house as many as 500 occupants. “It was well worth the additional expense,” Siders said. “You can’t really put a price on it.”

New corridors and rooms

The east entrance previously served as the primary entrance for daycare, Sunday school and worship service, resulting in a noisy and disruptive lobby. With the construction of a sanctuary and educational wing, those activities were separated, and new offices were created at the east entrance. New entryways have been introduced to the north and south. The canopied north entrance makes for the new service entrance, while the east administrative entrance is used during weekdays.
“The youth and the education, daycare and Sunday school, is what drove us, essentially, to increase in size,” Siders explained. “As the youth grows, the adults grow, and we didn’t have any adult education (previously).”
The new educational wing serves as a daycare and Sunday school class facility. This alone is larger than the entire previous church facility, at 15,000 square feet. It includes a more spacious music room, replacing what was “essentially a closet” in comparison and has since been turned into an office at east entrance. Each classroom now has its own restroom as mandated by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS). Laundry baskets no longer clutter the halls as kids have their own cubbies in each classrooms, as well as countertops and greater workspace.
The church youth of about 20 kids used to work out of a small room, but has increased to about 35 and now has a more functional space featuring a pool table and other amenities.
Featuring a repurposed stained glass piece from the fellowship hall, the new adult classroom also serves as a private chapel for small group worship.
A corridor was merged into the kitchen, increasing its overall size by about 250 percent. The nursery was also converted into a pantry room, and the kitchen transitioned to all commercial equipment for a more efficient operation.

A proper sanctuary

Previously, the fellowship hall hosted worship services, with the ability to divide the room with a partition afterwards, half being used for daycare recreation classes. It now serves as a multipurpose room and with the inclusion of a basketball hoop can better host recreational activities.
“Everyday, we had to move furniture back and forth and shift everything around,” Siders recalled of the previous layout. “Obviously building a new sanctuary facility just for our worship, we no longer have to do that.”
Along the multipurpose room, the church has introduced new bathroom facilities; a cry room with an observational window into sanctuary, which will eventually have an audio feed from the service; and a storage room.
The brand-new sanctuary serves as centerpiece of the new First United Methodist Church. At roughly 6,000 square feet, the room was designed to seat 450 people but can house about 600 total for holiday events. It features overhead doors on the stage and a new audio and visual system, replacing the old projector and screen with LED screens. Each performer has a microphone, and additional mics hanging from ceiling ensure a full capture of stage performance. The sanctuary also has a sound control area and IT room to manage its sophisticated equipment.
A large wooden cross, which used to hang on the ceiling at the narthex lobby area, hangs front and center in the sanctuary. The cross was made by a deceased former member of the church, Emil Novy, out of a storm-damaged walnut tree harvested off his property in the mid-1970s. It originally decorated the previous Methodist Church on Dubuque Street in North Liberty.
“We’re very proud to have that cross,” Siders remarked. “It’s a solid hunk of Iowa walnut reaped right here from the North Liberty area.”
Novy was the father of Ellen Colony, a longtime North Liberty resident and wife of the late Edgar Colony, who celebrated her 90th birthday at the church Sunday.
With the introduction of a dedicated sanctuary space also comes the ability to host more events. The church is currently scheduling weddings for the first time in its history.

Funding the expansion

The $4.5 million price tag for the new facility didn’t come easily. Siders said the church received a grant this year from the Methodist synagogue for $40,000. All other funding has come from donations and gifts.
“We were fortunate and had a very large donor that wishes to remain anonymous, who donated over a million dollars,” he noted. “So we’ve had some nice gifts.”
Such gifts allowed the church to pay off the remaining mortgage of the old church, established at $450,000 about 20 years ago, and enabled the reconstruction project.
So far, the church has raised about half of the construction cost, and will now assume a new mortgage of about $2.5 million. “That’s concerning,” he remarked. “But we’ll figure it out.”
To celebrate the milestone of its new facility, the First United Methodist Church will host a dedication service Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m. Bishops, ministers and pastors from surrounding churches will be present for the formal event. A grand opening will be held at 3:30 p.m.