After major renovations, Conway church set to re-open Sept. 6
Bill Leno, head of the restoration committee at the United Congregational Church of Conway, stands in the newly renovated kitchen. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
United Congregational Church of Conway with its renovated steeple. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
Bill Leno of the United Congragational Church of Conway preps a threshold for paint on Wednesday. The church has gone throuhg 3 years of renovations. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
Bill Leno on the new handicap ramp and exit at the United Congragational Church of Conway. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
Recorder file/Paul Franz
The United Congregational Church has asked the Conway Selectboard for $37,000 to renovate its bathrooms and install a ramp. Purchase photo reprints »
CONWAY — Having spent the past three years bogged down in a major restoration project, the United Congregational Church of Conway will once again open its doors next month.
The church will hold a ceremony to celebrate the occasion on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. According to the Rev. Candice Ashenden, the church’s pastor, the event will feature live music by The Contemporary Ensemble of Turners Falls, tickets to future church events and a guest speech by Donna Schaper, the pastor of Judson Memorial Church in New York City.
A rededication dinner will be held prior to the celebration for all of the donors who gave $100 or more to the renovation. According to Ashenden, that group includes about 100 people.
The church, which was built in 1885, has been closed since November 2011, when the health and safety of its members was called into question after a mold outbreak was discovered in much of the building’s woodwork and walls.
According to Ashenden, the building was tested to determine the extent of the problem and a mold remediation specialist was hired to remove it.
At that point, she said, the project took an unexpected turn.
To be fully removed, the mold had to be physically cut out of the building, which resulted in the removal of wood studs and parts of some of the historic building’s walls. At some locations, entire walls had to be removed. All of that had to be completely rebuilt.
With the help of Thayer Street Associates, a South Deerfield-based general contracting firm, Ashenden and a group of local volunteers — including Conway residents Bill Leno, Michele Novak and Lois Vight — spearheaded a complete overhaul of the building, which saw them completely renovate the bathrooms, kitchen, offices and many other rooms.
The church also saw a series of accessibility improvements during the renovation, including a new wooden ramp at the rear of the building that allows access to the basement community room, a redone front entrance ramp to the main sanctuary and a retrofit for both of the building’s bathrooms.
“It turned into a very large-scale project, very unexpectedly,” said Ashenden. “Our people have been here all summer, at least once per week working on it.”
In addition to the renovations, the building was cleaned, treated and waterproofed to prevent the mold from coming back.
“We’ve really gone to the n-th degree to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Ashenden. “We’ve had lots and lots of rain this summer to test it out to make sure.”
In January, the project was nearing completion when disaster struck once more: a pipe in the newly renovated kitchen burst, flooding the room completely and pushing their schedule back into the summer.
“We had to completely start over in the kitchen,” Ashenden said.
During the renovation, the church has been holding its services and other gatherings at the Conway Grammar School.
The project was funded through private donations, $100,000 of Community Preservation Act tax money, and $37,000 from the M and M Germaine Trust Fund, which is overseen by the town Selectboard and used to fund accessibility projects and college scholarships.
Additionally, the First Congregational Church of Winchester, of which Ashenden said she was a member while growing up, donated funds and volunteer time to the project.
Ashenden said a local artist has been contracted to build a metal tree with brass leaves that will display the names of private individuals who have donated to the cause. It will be displayed in the church’s lobby.
“It’s been a huge project, and we’ve had lots and lots of community support,” Ashenden said. “The exciting part of this journey is that our congregation has really come together and focused ourselves on giving to the community and opening for more community events.”
She said the church plans to reintroduce yoga classes, the youth chorus and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the fall.
Ashenden said that the project’s completion will allow the church to focus more on ministry and outreach.