Central Christian opens addition of 26,000 square feet

Central Christian Church, a fixture in the downtown Lexington social fabric, debuted its new north face to the community on Sunday.

The church officially opened its new 26,000-square-foot addition, which includes classroom space for children and youth ministries, as well as a new library, music rooms and an elevator to make the church more accessible.

"Isn't this great?" said Margaret McCoskey, peering around the library on Sunday, where books were still waiting to be put on new shelves. "It's going to be so nice for the church."

Jill Harris, co-chair of the children's ministry team, pronounced the new area "fabulous."

"It will be nice to have this place filled with children's laughter," Harris said. "I think it will be a place of fond memories."

Longtime member Pat Nicholson appreciated how the new building blended into the century-old structure. "I love that it looks like the old part," she said.

That was done with touches such as the stained-glass windows "rescued" from the church's original Barr Street entrance and now highlighted in the new entryway, said the Rev. Guy Waldrop, one of the church's ministers. The windows, which date to 1895, haven't been seen since a 1930s makeover covered them up, he said.

The present expansion, which includes more parking and a renovated fellowship hall, is part of the church's community mission, said the Rev. Michael Mooty, senior minister. The new entrance visually expresses that, Mooty said. "We want to be a church that reaches out to our neighbors."

But convenience is also a factor. "To have a place where people can be dropped off under shelter will be huge," he said.

Marjorie Huffman, 97, was touring the new rooms for the first time. Huffman, who uses a wheelchair or a cane to get around, was especially glad to see the elevator. "It's a lot better than the steps," she said.

With the remodeled fellowship hall and additional space, Mooty said, the church hopes to become more of a community space. "Our problem was we had no place to park, so we couldn't host a large group," he said. Now the church has more than 200 parking spaces.

The church's last major renovation had been in the 1950s. But in 2000 the 1,000-member congregation reaffirmed its commitment to stay in downtown Lexington, rather than build in the suburbs.

"Central has been so engaged in ministering to the whole downtown community we just couldn't envision having the same kind of breadth of interaction in a different setting," Mooty said. "I think there was a strong sense that we are where we're supposed to be."

So in 2003, Central Christian bought 3 acres beside its original sanctuary on East Short Street from the city for $1.2 million. The former courthouse and jail on the site had to be torn down. Plans for the new buildings were approved in May 2005 and ground broken in June 2007.

Altogether, the project has cost $11 million, Mooty said. Two capital campaigns have raised about $4 million, an additonal $3.5 million has been pledged in planned gift and bequests. A third campaign this year will target the difference.

"People saw the acquisition as a holy opportunity that could never have been envisioned," Mooty said. "We then had a responsibility to do something that would be meaningful with this property."

The church has strong links to music education and the new facilities could play an even bigger role in that in the future.

"One of the goals is for this to be used by the community as a center for the arts and other things that make Lexington a richer, more just, more humane place to live," he said.

The church also is working out a long-term lease with LexArts for the Womwell Building, the former city archives, on the north side of its property. LexArts recently received a $1 million grant to renovate the property to house several music programs, including the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra. "So we think this area has the potential to become the anchor of an arts district in Lexington," Mooty said.