Longstanding plans to convert the Trinity United Church property into a residential-based multi-purpose space are likely to soon bear fruit. The church group expects the structure to be demolished and construction of a new building to start within the next year and half.
The redevelopment project will feature a 40-unit apartment building, smaller worship space, meeting spaces, and offices.
“We want to utilize the space in a more meaningful way, because you have a church building that is very large, and the most activity it sees is a Sunday morning,” said Trinity United’s Susan Belnarovics. “Throughout the week, various rooms get rented out to community groups. But in general, it’s a large space that’s empty, and we wanted to use it more efficiently.”
There are several steps the group needs to take before the project can move forward, hence the lengthier timeline.
“So we’re just currently in negotiations with West Development, a development group who will start construction,” said Mary Feldskov, chair of the group’s leadership team. “There’s some work that needs to be done from a legal perspective and getting the appropriate zoning clearances from the township and that sort of thing.”
The group also has an additional property at the back of the church, which was a former manse. While it is currently being rented out, it is in need of repair and upkeep. This is another factor to consider moving forward with construction.
“So the timeline is fluid at this point, but we’re probably looking within the next 12-18 months of the project going into the ground,” said Feldskov. “Then we’re looking at a 12-18 month building time. In that time, we’ll be looking to relocate temporarily and worship somewhere else.”
The temporary location has yet to be decided. The inception of this project started for several reasons including expensive maintenance costs of such a large building, aging infrastructure, and looking to become more functional based on the needs of the community.
“It’s not super old, but it is an aging building that’s very expensive to maintain,” said Feldskov.
The building was constructed in 1963 to replace a former church built in 1874. Eventually, it came to be the Trinity United Church in 1971, when Wesley United and Zion United merged into one congregation.
Today, it’s used by various community groups including the Elmira Horticultural Society and Weight Watchers, who meet in the building weekly. The group is looking to continue their traditional programs and services.
“We have a really great location where we are in Elmira,” said Feldskov. “We’re very fortunate to have that location. We do offer once a month, for example, a pay-what-you-can community dinner that we’ve partnered with Woolwich Community Services for. And so those are the kinds of programs that we want to continue with when we have our new space.”
In particular, the 40-unit apartment addition differentiates from a typical church setting. Feldskov said that hope to make housing easier for Elmira residents with this change.
“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to give back to our community,” said Feldskov. “We know that residential rental apartments are challenging to find in Elmira. We have a lot of people that end up leaving the community when they sell their homes.
“For example, seniors when they sell their homes, they end up going into the city for somewhere to live because they can’t find suitable space in Elmira. So it’s a legacy for the community as well.”