Westside church won't be 'hasty' in move to much larger site at Fillmore /MesaOne thing that's not likely to be said about the First Evangelical Free Church is that it makes rash decisions.
Church records show that after it was started in 1895 by seven Swedish immigrant families, First Free stayed at its initial downtown location for about 60 years. It even took until the 1940s before services were no longer offered in Swedish.
The next big change was moving to the northwest corner of 30th and Fontanero in the mid-1950s. That's where the congregation, now numbering close to 400 people, has been for the last 60 years.
Don Wilkin, the church chairman, predicted “probably five years or greater” before the move actually happens. The goal is to do an “excellent job of planning and that takes awhile,” he said. Among the issues that must be resolved are the building layout, parking and landscaping. The church also wants to “take the time to understand the neighborhood concern” and nurture a “great relationship with Holmes” (the middle school next door). On the pragmatic side, funds must be raised to pay for the project. A study will even be done to see how many years the 30th/Fontanero location - which over the years has seen a few additions along with the purchase of a neighboring house to use for an office - might still remain viable.
“We're looking at it from as many aspects as possible,” Wilkin said. “We're not going to move hastily forward.”
In addition, the church has a self-regulating factor. Its bylaws require that no major decisions can be made without approval of the congregation as a whole.
All that aside, before the relocation can get past square one, city approval is necessary. First Evangelical has an agreement to buy the property from Garden of the Gods LLC, but the current zoning is for single-family homes. That will need to be changed to allow a church use there. The issue is scheduled before Planning Commission May 15. See separate article.
The Fillmore/Mesa idea started with a congregation member who chanced to see a for-sale sign at the southeast corner last fall. The opportunity was received with interest by church leaders, who have been trying to consider “where the ministry might go over the next 100 years,” Wilkin said. The timing was also serendipitous for the LLC, which had been in talks with the Mainstreet skilled nursing/assisted living company and was able to dovetail the church proposal into the plan it was submitting to the city. “It goes to show that God moves in interesting ways,” Wilkin commented.
The Fillmore/Mesa site - eight acres, plus two neighboring Sentinel residential lots that the church would buy as a buffer - would definitely address the geographical part of the church's 100-year concerns.The current operation at 30th and Fontanero occurs on a total land area of about 1 1/4 acres, with roughly 15,000 square feet inside its buildings, Wilkin said. At Fillmore and Mesa, there would be space for a larger building (tentative plans call for 80,000 square feet of total space, as shown on the concept plan - in a two-to-three-story building) and ample parking. The current parking lot is noticeably undersized, leading to cars taking spaces at times on the streets of the surrounding neighborhood, and “is a limiting factor on our growth,” Wilkin noted.
The First Evangelical congregation also likes the visibility on the Mesa. The spot would be accessible to more of the city, yet remain on the Westside. “One of the most important considerations for us is that we want to maintain a Westside ministry,” he said.
Westside Pioneer article