This summer, as part of a comprehensive capital campaign to secure the future of the church, Christ Episcopal Church will break ground on its planned expansion project, which will include the remodeling of some of the church’s existing buildings, as well as the construction of a new Christian Formations building.
“The components of this capital building project are not intended to grow the size of our preschool and kindergarten, nor to grow substantially the size of our worship and congregation on Sunday,” said the Rev. Thomas Reeder, the church’s rector. “The essence of this capital project is that it will enable us to be more effective with the space that we have in mission and ministry.”
The church recently presented the details of its project to the Ponte Vedra Architectural Review Committee (PVARC) and the Ponte Vedra Zoning and Adjustment Board (PVZAB). The purpose of the meetings was to address the church’s non-zoning variance request to allow relief from certain Ponte Vedra Overlay District regulations as it goes forward with its expansion.
Specifically, the church requested exceptions be granted to allow: a two-story, 35-foot building to be located within 150 feet of a residentially zoned property; a two-story building to encroach less than 10 feet at the required 50-foot setback from the roadway; an auto court along Solana Road to encroach the required 20-foot buffer from the roadway by less than 10 feet; a combination of flat and pitched roofing; and the construction of a 180-foot building parallel to the roadway. Additionally, the church also requested that the requirement for an 8-foot masonry wall (or vegetation with 100 percent opacity) when a two-story building is constructed within 100 feet of a residence be waived, noting that the residence in question belongs to the church. Ultimately, following the PVARC’s recommendation, the PVZAB voted 7-0 to approve the requested variance.
The first phase of the project, according to Reeder, will involve the renovation and repurposing of the church’s Christian Family Center to house the Christ Church Preschool and Early Learning Program.
After the children have moved into their new building, Reeder said the church intends to demolish the old school buildings to make way for its new Christian Formations building, which will be used for classes, meetings, training, administration and the church’s arts programs.
Additional changes will include the addition of a welcoming Connections Center to the church’s existing administration building, as well the renovation and slight expansion of Cooper Chapel. Currently, the chapel seats 55 people, but the church is looking to add roughly 20 to 25 more seats.
“We have two large worship spaces here on campus,” Reeder explained. “We have a traditional sanctuary that seats 600, and we have a contemporary worship space in our parish hall that seats maybe 250 or 300, so our chapel is the small intimate choice for people that prefer that. So, we’re not trying to make our chapel huge, we’re just trying to make it a little more user-friendly.”
To tie everything together and make the campus more cohesive as whole, the church also intends to add a garden courtyard in the middle of the campus and an outdoor gathering area adjacent to its new chapel and memorial garden. Despite these changes, Reeder said Christ Church has no desire to add to its current campus footprint.
“We want to be good neighbors,” he explained. “We want the neighbors to feel at home here, even if they don’t go to church here — heck, even if they aren’t Christian.”
Selected through a competitive bidding process, the architectural firm that designed the plans for the project was Jacksonville-based ELM — Ervin Lovett Miller. Having previously worked on other local projects, like Sawgrass Village, Christ Church staff felt ELM was the perfect fit for the job, and ELM couldn’t have agreed more.
“Christ Episcopal Church’s campus renovation is one of those truly inspirational legacy projects that has a profound positive effect on so many present and future lives,” said Russ Ervin of ELM. “This is such a unique opportunity to serve a residentially-integrated community church and the neighborhood in which it resides.”
With construction on the overall project expected to be completed by 2020, Reeder said the church was grateful for the help of county staff throughout the approval process and is looking forward to continuing its role as a central part of the Ponte Vedra Beach community.
“The bottom line of what Christ Church is about is calling people to Jesus Christ who don’t know Jesus and taking the ones who are here who already know Jesus and getting them closer to him,” he said. “We’re trying to make more and better disciples of Jesus Christ, but we have to do that in ways that respect where we are and the neighbors that we have.”