Verona Press

Verona Press - 8/28/2014

From bowling balls to Bibles

Sugar River UMC moves into Wildcat Lanes

Samantha Christian

Unified Newspaper Group

Sugar River is on the move – the church, that is.Verona Press

Having previously worshipped in an athletic center and library, the congregation will again forgo a steeple and begin services in the city’s longtime former bowling alley starting Sunday, Sept. 14.

With approval from the city and floor plans in hand, Sugar River United Methodist Church is in the process of making the former Wildcat Lanes facility, 415 W. Verona Ave., its permanent home. The church has owned the building since Friday, Aug. 15.

“We as a church just felt that instead of trying to build another building, to repurpose a building made more sense – good stewardship,” said Pastor Gary Holmes. “When the bowling alley became available it was under foreclosure, so the bank was trying to sell it (and) several companies (that) considered keeping it as a bowling alley looked at it and decided it was not usable. We went to look at it and thought that it could be a possibility for us.”

The projected cost of the project, including the purchase of the building and refurbishing, is $1.875 million. Holmes is hopeful that everything will be completed by spring.

“Our dream would be to open up the new worship center at Easter,” said Holmes. “That’s when we’d do our big kick (off) to welcome the community to see it.”

But there is still much work to be done before the transition from bowling balls to Bibles is complete.Verona Press

Changing lanes

The first order of business is to pack up and haul out everything this week from the former library, 130 N. Franklin St., because the church’s lease with the city ends Aug. 31. More than 90 volunteers have signed up to help with the moving efforts, child care and food prep.

Next Step Ministries will also bring 15 volunteers, including some youth from Sugar River UMC’s “mother church,” Asbury UMC of Middleton, to help paint over the Wildcat Lanes exterior sign  Saturday, weather-permitting.

The word that the building has been sold has not reached everyone yet. With the sign still visible, some people have been stopping by thinking they can grab a burger, hang out by the bar or knock down some pins.

Even some of the children of the congregation seem to be confused. A few were concerned that the church and all the people in it were going away, so the church is planning to give them a tour of the new building as a field day soon to help them understand the situation.

The church held its last services at the former library on Sunday, Aug. 24, a day filled with mixed emotions for members.

“It was touching when they took the cross out,” said Diane Lukas, moving coordinator for the project.

Verona Press

Verona Press

The congregation of about 250 members had been outgrowing the library space, which Holmes said was not the best design for a church. Moving between the fellowship and sanctuary areas was complicated, and the children’s ministry had been located in the basement along with the Verona Food Pantry. Still, they had invested a lot of time and energy into making the space work for their needs over the years.

The bowling alley is nearly double the size of the library, giving the church plenty of room to expand its services.

“We (were) utilizing maybe 13,000 square feet, and this is 26,000 square feet,” said Holmes. “So it allows us to create a sanctuary.”

Holmes added that there will be a two-story open foyer to bring in more natural light.

“We’re excited about this design,” he said. “It’ll definitely be better than it is now.”

The completed sanctuary will occupy the space where the 16 bowling lanes were located. The ceiling will be raised to almost 20 feet.

“We were taking tiles out of it the last couple days, and it was so neat to see it go up … 19 feet in the air instead of nine feet,” Holmes said.

To help reduce costs and keep some things out of the landfill, the ceiling tiles from above the lanes have been recycled and cut into squares for use upstairs.

Work in progress

Church volunteers are already in the process of cleaning, painting and renovating certain areas of the bowling alley, especially the upstairs banquet hall, where services and fellowship will be held for roughly the next six months.Verona Press

That area will eventually be the youth center with classrooms, which Lukas said will also be available for the community to use. In the meantime, Sunday School will be held downstairs for most of the children.

The area where pool tables were located is being transformed into the temporary nursery, as well.

“We’re moving into the banquet hall area for several months while we’re reconstructing the rest of the building,” Holmes said. “We’re putting in as much sweat equity as we can.”

Many volunteers from the congregation have already put in numerous hours.

“Most of this work, as far as the sanctuary (banquet hall) and downstairs, is all volunteers at this point in time. We’re pretty much here from 9 (a.m.) to 9 (p.m.),” Lukas said — and sometimes even earlier.

“We have a lot of good people spread out through everything. What we need is an electrician and a plumber,” she joked.

Lukas said the construction company will start full-fledged work on the rest of the building around October.

Robin Roberts with NCI-Roberts Construction, Inc. of Madison will be in charge of construction for the sanctuary, exterior, entry and elevator. The architect for the project is Doug Pahl with Aro Eberle of Madison.

“Our first priorities are to get the entrance in and the building exterior done this fall,” said Holmes.

While the church is in transition between buildings, it will hold a 9 a.m. service at Harriet Park for the next two Sundays.

“Things are going better than anticipated, even though it seems slow at times,” said Lukas. “We’re just happy we have it.”

Verona Press

Bowlers react

Related by Scott Girard: Read what a pair of longtime bowlers had to say about the alley’s closure.

Verona Press

Verona Press