Grosse Pointe Congregational Church plans to build elevator to improve accessibility

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 18, 2018

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Work could be starting as soon as Oct. 1 on a project that would make Grosse Pointe Congregational Church, 240 Chalfonte Ave., accessible to all.

Donn Bodhe, an architect with Clinton Township-based SBW/Architects LLC, and Craig Baetz, a church member and the project coordinator, presented a site plan to the Grosse Pointe Farms City Council Aug. 14. The project involves construction of a new, covered vehicle drop-off area and a two-story addition with a new entrance, elevator and elevator lobby, Public Service Director Terry Brennan stated in a memo.

The effort — called the Welcome All Project — “makes the building 100 percent accessible from the parking lot to the second floor,” Bodhe said.

The existing fire stairs would still be present and usable, he said. They hope, through this project, to address the fact that the church actually has five different floor levels; Bodhe said that as an example, the sanctuary is 18 inches higher than the first floor.

“The elephant in the room … is the parking issue,” City Councilman Peter Waldmeir said.

He said the city’s planning consultants with McKenna Associates had “some concerns” about the lack of parking.

“The number of spaces are deficient, according to (current) parking requirements,” Waldmeir continued.

Despite having fewer than the minimum number of required spaces, church officials said parking shouldn’t be an issue.

“The church was designed to seat about 304 people (on the main floor),” said Bodhe, noting that the maximum capacity of the sanctuary is roughly 373 when the balcony and chancel are taken into consideration. A report by SBW states that only the five-member choir and the pastor use the chancel, and only the audiovisual specialist sits in the balcony, reducing the capacity of the church.

The church was built in 1948. When an addition with classrooms, a parlor and additional offices was added in 1954, the number of spaces the city required the church to provide was 88; today, that on-site minimum is 125. Bodhe said the reconfigured parking lot will have 74 spaces, which will accommodate up to 222 worshippers. The accessibility project is costing the church eight parking spaces.

Parking lot restriping several years ago to make parking easier for aging churchgoers reduced the number of spaces in the lot from 88 to 82, according to a report from the architects.

“There’s nothing we’re proposing that’s increasing occupancy,” Bodhe said of the project.

On an average weekend, he said, there are about 60 worshippers who come to services. Church membership was 199 as of 2017. A report from the architects said that even on major holidays such as Christmas and Easter, there are only about 115 to 120 in attendance for services.

“The church has never experienced a problem with having too few spaces,” Bodhe said.

Because the church is landlocked, he said it would be “very difficult, if not impossible” to add more parking spaces.

The council voted unanimously in favor of the site plan, with several conditions, including working with administrators to add trees along the Brownell Middle School property line.

Baetz said this is about the church’s fourth attempt to become accessible to everyone.

“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “The congregation is excited about this.”

At press time, Baetz said they hoped to start as soon as Oct. 1, or after the ground thaws following the winter in 2019. He said project staging would likely be located in a fenced-in area in the church parking lot.