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A rendering of the First United Methodist Church as it will look after an expansion and renovation is completed.
A rendering of the First United Methodist Church as it will look after an expansion and renovation is completed.

First UMC blends old, new in $3.4 million expansion

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

First United Methodist Church members love their sanctuary, built in 1898. So when they wanted to expand for a growing membership, they insisted that architect Fred Underwood mix the new with the old.

The church in historic Decatur is undertaking a $3.4 million expansion and renovation that will include a three-story family life center with fellowship hall at Canal and Church streets. The sanctuary will remain untouched, except for an entryway addition and a sprinkler system that will cover the entire church.

"When we surveyed the congregation, the one thing everyone agreed on is the objective that the new building would blend easily into the historic neighborhood and match the existing building," said Underwood, a church member.

Underwood's design attempts to match the old sanctuary's brick facade. The entrance features an in-laid Cross and Flame, the symbol of the United Methodist Church, and three water fountains representing the Trinity.

"Although the fountains will be at different heights, the single spouts in the middle will shoot the water to even height to symbolize equality," Underwood said.

Building committee chairman Clyde Sasser said the expansion became necessary due to growth since the Rev. Terry L. Greer came to the church three years ago. Membership is about 800 with 350 average attendance for the two Sunday morning services.

Sasser said the most pressing problem is the current fellowship hall is too small. Wednesday night dinners have to start earlier. Members have to eat quickly and move so others can sit and enjoy their meal. Lingering to socialize isn't an option.

The 23,000-square-foot addition will include 12 Sunday school rooms on the second and third floors above a 4,000-square-foot fellowship hall. The hall will feature a kitchen and a stage. Members also will get a covered pickup area along Canal Street.

Church offices are spread between two floors in the existing building, so the current fellowship area will be converted into a church office with a workspace after completion of the addition.

One final addition to the existing building on the Lafayette Street side is a columbarium, a repository for ashes following cremation.

After contractor selection and getting final approval at a church conference of members April 3, Underwood said the project has a 435-calendar-day schedule. He said the addition should take about 11 months.

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