October 1, 2014

Massive church project gets massive gift promise

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A virtual image shows the design of the worship hall for the proposed Essex Alliance Church facility in Williston. (Obsever file photo)

A virtual image shows the design of the worship hall for the proposed Essex Alliance Church facility in Williston. (Obsever file photo)

By Matt Sutkoski

Observer correspondent

It has been nearly seven years since the Essex Alliance Church announced it was contemplating a move to a roomier spot in Williston, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The prospect of a major gift to the church, plus a permit process that’s pretty much complete, however, means construction on the 54-acre parcel on Beaudry Lane, off Route 2A, is finally getting closer.

Anonymous donors recently announced they would give roughly $18 million to the church. The gift would go a long way toward covering the estimated price tag for the new church complex, which might go as high as $30 million, said Alliance Church Lead Pastor Scott Slocum.

“We have not yet received that gift,” Slocum said, and no construction is anticipated until financing for the project is completely set up. Investments made by the donor must mature before any money is transferred to the church, and that could take up to a year, he said.

“Financing of the project is the latest piece we’re working on,” he said. He and other church officials said they don’t want to start construction until there is enough financing to see the project through to completion—nobody in the church leadership wanted to start the project, then have to temporarily suspend it while new financing was arranged.

Slocum acknowledged the Williston church project has been a long haul.

“It’s taken much longer than we had hoped. It is a long, long process,” he said.

Obtaining permits for the project took church officials through numerous meetings and planning revisions so that it could win both local and state approval. The Williston Development Review Board approved various versions of the church project, most recently in 2012. The most recent, 2012 approval came when the church had to change plans for the parking lot so as not to run afoul of new Vermont wetlands rules.

The contemporary style church building, with a prominent entranceway and a facade of glass and stone, will rise to a height of just over 50 feet, according to Williston Development Review Board records.

The height exceeds town standards for the neighborhood, so as mitigation the church must include six to eight housing units on its Williston property. Slocum said he is not yet sure if the church will build the housing on its own, or subdivide the property and have another developer complete the housing.

The main church building will include an auditorium with a capacity of about 1,200 people where services would be held, and separate areas for youth ministries, activities, administrative offices and a cafe.

Essex Alliance Church is firmly rooted in Christianity, but has a contemporary feel unlike that of many traditional churches. Services include a full orchestra and multi-media presentations, and Slocum uses the services to talk about how modern, day-to-day issues relate to the Bible, according to the church’s website.

The Essex Alliance Church attracts more than 1,500 worshippers on a typical Sunday, and as many as 4,000 on Easter and Christmas, Slocum said.

Slocum said he is unsure what will become of the church’s Essex property once the Williston site is finished. The Essex land will mostly like be sold, either as one unit or as a series of subdivided parcels. The church will hold on to its Essex property until after the Williston church complex is fully built.

He said he’s not sure when construction will start in Williston, but he’s hoping that it will begin within a year.

CHURCH LOOKS TO BUILD GREENHOUSE

The Essex Alliance Church is also looking for space to establish greenhouses and a hydroponics operation as part of its mission to feed the hungry, Slocum said. The vegetable growing operation would likely become established at existing farmland outside any heavily developed areas, and not on the church’s proposed Williston complex.

The idea is still fairly new, so church officials have not yet started looking for a place to grow food, he said.

“We are a significant participant in the Williston Food Shelf,” Slocum said, as church members frequently donate food and money to the Williston charity and other organizations that feed and clothe the hungry.

Church members began to question how the congregation could do more to help the needy, and the idea of providing fresh vegetables took off. Some of the vegetables would be given directly to organizations like the Food Shelf and some would be sold, with some of the proceeds going to charity, Slocum said.

The church hopes the greenhouses and vegetable farming, once established, will become a model for similar churches and religious organizations to follow.

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