By CHRIS MORRIS
NEW ALBANY —
The members of St. Marks United Church of Christ do more than show up for worship service every Sunday morning. Much more.
They live by a simple motto: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
And they mean what they say.
During a 12-month period, about 5,200 meals were served in the church’s soup kitchen and 22,000 articles of clothing were given away at the St. Marks Community Clothes Closet. St. Marks hosts both services at its education building located next to the church at 222 E. Spring St. in New Albany.
With the need in the community growing, church leaders decided their education building also needed to be renovated and expanded to handle that need.
“This is a very mission-oriented church,” said Nick Cortolillo, a member of the church’s capital campaign committee. “We decided we needed to expand our kitchen and clothes closet area. That was the driving force behind this.”
Work began on the building March 1 and is expected to be completed Sept. 28.
Highlights of the $1.9 million project include doubling the size of the education building’s kitchen and turning two existing classrooms into one large room for the thousands of clothing items which are given away weekly through the Clothes Closet. An elevator is also being installed for the three-story building and other minor upgrades including painting and new carpet will be added.
All new kitchen appliances will be added and the space for the clothes closet will be enlarged by 630 square feet and redesigned to make working and shopping easier.
“Every room in this building will be touched to a degree,” said architect Lane Stumler of Michell Timperman and Ritz, who is overseeing the project.
One of the major expenses will be the installation of a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, or HVAC, system for the building which was constructed in 1968. The committee decided to install a geothermal unit.
Stumler said figuring out the new HVAC system was probably the most time-consuming aspect of the project. After several discussions and meetings, the group decided on the geothermal system which will use the least amount of fossil fuel, Stumler said.
“Being good stewards of the church’s money would mean higher investment up front to save in the long run,” Stumler said. “Their decision was based on doing the right thing.”
Pipes will be installed under the church’s parking lot and will run under Third Street into the building.
“That was a big part of this project because we were spending $30,000 to $50,000 a year on repairing our HVAC system and we decided enough was enough,” Cortolillo said. “We could have gone with a traditional system but we decided to go with the geothermal system which is clean and more efficient. We thought it was the way to go even though it cost a little more money.”
St. Marks Pastor John Manzo said the kind of modern HVAC system being constructed for the education building is not someting you would expect to see in downtown New Albany.
“A lot of people in the community don’t realize that we are putting a geothermal heating and air system in. It’s really cutting edge,” he said.
Clothes that are dropped off for the clothes closet are separated in the basement of the building before being transferred to the second floor. That is one reason why the church decided to put in an elevator.
Cortolillo said $30,000 to $40,000 will also be spent to upgrade and repair the church’s organ.
St. Marks was founded in 1837 and the current church was constructed in 1957. Cortolillo said about 150 to 250 members attend service on a weekly basis.
Stumler, who is also a St. Marks member, said the church has a passion to help those in need by providing a soup kitchen and clothes closet.
“We clothe them and feed them,” he said. “St. Marks doesn’t ask anything of these people. They just want to fulfill a need. That is what struck me ... this is a mission-oriented church.”
“Each year it just gets bigger and bigger,” Cortolillo said of the clothes closet. “Since the economic downturn in 2008, we have seen an increase in the number of people we have coming in. And it’s totally free. It’s just amazing how many clothes we get.”
During the renovation work, the clothes closet has been moved to Central Christian Church while the Saturday soup kitchen is across the street at Centenary UMC.