Despite these challenging times, the extensive renovations at Leaside United Church have been moving ahead, taking advantage of the opportunity to proceed without having to accommodate the needs of the congregation and renters, and are nearing completion.
The guiding principles behind the renovation plan were to make the building more modern and accessible, present a more inviting appearance to encourage community engagement, and make better use of the space.
These principles are in full view first in the new glass entranceway on the Millwood side of the building. Jim Miller, chair of the Property Committee, comments that it “serves as a focal point for the church in the community, a beacon to draw the eye as an inviting place to visit.” Inside these doors, there is a new reception area with a coffee bar. Behind that is a spacious washroom with disabled access. In addition, the office area for the administrative staff has been opened up with modular furniture and a glass front.
The changes in the sanctuary include more contemporary lighting with a backup program, a new audio-visual system and stage lighting to facilitate both church presentations and those of rental groups. The chancel itself features a new ramp and railing for greater accessibility. As Reverend Emily Gordon says, these changes “address physical and other accessibility concerns, from the ramp into the chancel, so that anyone can preach, read scripture or join the choir, to improved lighting and sound systems, making it easier to be engaged with worship.”
On the lower level, there are new welcome and meeting areas plus four washrooms. The “Gathering Space” with its enhanced lighting will serve as an area for displaying art from the community. The gymnasium has a new ceiling and floor with court boundaries for two pickleball courts, two badminton courts and one basketball court. The remodelled kitchen has easy access to the gym and the “Gathering Space,” and separate areas for preparation and cleanup.
Outside, the ramp to the new entranceway and the driveway are now more user-friendly, and there’s increased accessible parking. There are also new steps and lights facing onto McRae, and the hedge has been removed to open up the church property to the community.
Graham Lute, co-chair of the Renovation and Missional Committee, explains that “virtually everything in the renovation has been done with community usage and appeal in mind: the kitchens, gym, and gathering areas, along with the audio-visual and lighting improvements.” Indeed, there has already been a great deal of interest in rental opportunities from sports and child-care groups hoping to use the upgraded facilities.
In the meantime, the committee is planning a video showcasing the changes and tours for the community once things normalize. As well, Rev. Gordon says there are discussions underway about recording parts of Sunday services in the sanctuary in the near future, and bringing back “in-person worship opportunities in a way and at a time that is safe.” The congregation is excited about being together again in this beautiful new space as soon as possible.