Church puts community first with Hub for All Things Highlands.
Highland United Methodist Church raising money to renovate empty garage.
Church plans also calls for protecting stained glass windows and new boilers.
The Rev. Bradley Laurvick fields two or three unsolicited calls a month from developers wanting to buy the valuable lot just east of his church at West 32nd Avenue and Osceola Street in West Highland.
But the pastor of the Highlands United Methodist Church has no plans to ever sell the mostly empty lot.
“We absolutely could have made a killing,” by selling the land, which has a long-vacated garage on it, Laurvick said.
“We have had many opportunities to take the money and run. But that is not who we are.”
Instead, the church is raising money to renovate the 1,300-square-foot building.
“It is not huge, but we are going to do huge things with it,” Laurvick said.
“Instead of urban blight, we will bring urban delight,” to that key corner along West 32nd Avenue, Laurvick noted on a web page describing the capital campaign to raise money for the renovation and other projects for the church.
All told, the entire cost of the projects, which will include new glass to better insulate and protect the beautiful stained glass windows in the church and a new boiler system, comes to about $1.3 million.
Much of the money is coming from historical grants for the landmark church building. And the church already has $455,000 pledged by congregation members, local merchants and neighbors who don’t count themselves among the 155 congregation members.
Chiodini is a member of the congregation by providing a pro bono design, “it probably saves us $50,000,” Laurvick said.
The church also is saving another $50,000 from the “incredible discounts,” provided by their general contractor, Michel Gagnon, principal of UMD Home, who also is a member of the congregation, he said.
The majority of the money being raised is coming from the congregation. They also are being backed by donations from local merchants such as Matthew Hibler of Cherry Creek Mortgage, Fire on the Mountain, and Cliff Bautsch, who owns nearby commercial real estate space, as well as the North Denver Tribune.
Some neighbors, who don’t belong to the church, also have kicked in some funds, he said.
After all the purpose of the renovated garage building, dubbed Hub for All Things Highlands, is to serve the community around the church.
“With all the things going on in Highland, the one thing missing is space,” Laurvick said.
When it opens next summer, one of the proposed uses is one of the hottest trends in commercial real estate: co-working.
“The idea is that people who work from home and get lonely can come here,” he said.
“If you go to a coffee shop, you really can’t easily strike up conversations with people around you. As long as the Wi-Fi is fast and the coffee is hot, we can create a real sense of space and community.”
Unlike other co-working offices, this one is free.
“Co-working and play will be completely free,” Laurvick said.
“We’re not doing this to make money. We’re doing this to build community,” he emphasized.
Other ideas being bounced around for the space include:
- Bike maintenance classes.
- Gardening workshops.
- Live music.
- And kid play days during the winter, when it is too cold to take them to a park. The site will sport yard games, climbable art, community garden space and a neighborhood art gallery with art from neighborhood schools and local artist.
The church is actively soliciting ideas for the space. They already are coming from unexpected places.
“I was picking up some pizza from a neighborhood place the other day and the guy behind the counter said, “Hey, I read about your garage in the North Denver Tribune.”
He teaches a pottery class in Arvada and was wondering if he could teach one in the garage, too.
“I immediately said yes,” Laurvick said.
The garage was built in the 1950s or 1960s. Before that, there was a greenhouse on the property.
The church bought the land in 1983, because it needed the parking.
“It is amazing how everything has grown around it, since we bought the land,” Laurvick said.
The church traces its history in the area to 1892, when it was founded in a barn north of its current site.
In the late 1890s, it built the first church, but it burned down and oldest part of the current church was constructed in the 1900s. An educational wing was added in the 1950s.
At that time, the church had a congregation of about 1,500.
It fell to about 20 during parts of the 1980s and 1990s, and the church came close to shutting its doors several times.
The previous pastor grew the membership to about 70 during her 10 years at the helm of the church. Since he became pastor 4.5 years ago, Laurvick has more than doubled the membership.
“A lot of folks here are returning to church for the first time in their adults lives,” Laurvick said.
“For a lot of our members, they are giving church their last chance. The same things they don’t like about churches and religion are the same things we don’t like: overly dogmatic, excluding individuals and bureaucratic b.s. When we talk about our ministry, we are talking about things like feeding the homeless. We don’t try to convert anyone. We think religion is all about working on loving and serving each other.”
Other plans call for the repair, restoration and protection of the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, which have been fatigued by 94 years of sun and wind, he notes.
They also will be replacing two boilers that are more than 50 years old.
The doors of the church open nearly 1,000 times each day, making the space hard to keep warm during the winter.
“One of our boilers went out last Christmas Eve,” Laurvick noted.
“Rather than paying $2,000 to fix it, it’s time to get new ones that will keep our children and members safe and warm,” he said.
“We will go from boilers that are maybe 30 percent efficient to maybe 80 percent efficient,” he said.
The church hosts community groups, interfaith activists, community yoga, classes, workshops and camps, fundraisers for local schools. It also houses one of Denver’s longest running justice programs and one of Denver’s oldest folk music associations, Swallow Hill Music.
“We use our building to serve the people of our neighborhood,” according to Laurvick.
He lives in part of the church that is more than a century old and needs new energy-efficient windows to keep out the draft and reduce its environmental impact.
Overall, his mantra for the latest chapter in the church’s long history is this: “We won’t be redeveloping, we will be reinvesting and reinvigorating. So many churches in the past have had to sell stuff and walk away. We do not want to do that. And thankfully, we are in a place where we can continue to serve our community to our fullest ability with the resources we have on hand and what we hope to raise.”
If you would like to donate to the capital campaign for the Highlands United Methodist Church, please go to this link: https://highlands.breezechms.com/give/online
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