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Answering call for church remodel - 9,000-sq.-ft. addition for Emmanuel

By DeAnn Rossetti

The oldest church on Mercer Island has gotten a much-needed makeover.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church has been undergoing a $2 million renovation since September of last year. The project includes a 9,000-square-foot transept that bisects the existing rectangular space. That area will feature a new narthex, a small upstairs chapel and a choir room as well as meeting and classroom space, accessible restrooms and new office space.

Founded as an Episcopal mission in 1914, Emmanuel was originally in a small building next to the East Seattle School. In 1950, members of the congregation bought property at S.E. 44th Street and 86th Avenue S.E., closer to the center of town, raised money for the building and and moved in in 1960. Long time parishioner, Rick Adams, saw the building go up. It hasn't changed much since then, he said.

Rev. Randal Gardner has had a long history with the Island church as well, Adams said.

``Randy lived on Mercer Island with his family before going into the priesthood,'' recalls Adams, who moved onto Mercer Island in 1957. ``He was the janitor at Emmanuel as a young boy, so he has a long history with us.''

As chairman of the new building committee, Adams said he felt a renovation was long overdue.

``We recognized that the (main) building was getting old and needed major repairs,'' said Adams. ``Building codes have changed over the years, and we needed to get the electrical system up to code, and fix things like the roof of the sanctuary.''

Adams said his focus was aided by a trip to England to view the great cathedrals there.

``The cathedrals in Salisbury, York and Coventry are eight centuries old and still functioning,'' he said. ``I thought about what Emmanuel will look like in 50 or 100 years, will it still be functional?

A parish-wide planning effort actually began in 1997, when a building committee was formed to to identify long-range space needs and establish priorities.

In 2000, Dykeman Associates were brought on board as the architects of the remodel, after being vetted by the building committee which has three members who are architects. The firm presented three designs to the committee, which then chose the current design and presented it to the congregation in 2001 in drawings and in model form.

The congregation enthusiastically endorsed the design, Adams said.

The building committee even hired a consultant to find out how much money the church could raise for the renovation.

``There was a lot of personal calls to long-term parishioners, asking them to give what's in their hearts to give,'' said Adams. ``Within six months, we got enough (donations) to complete the project.''

The church's strong membership of the past motivate present parishioners to give, Adams said.

``Those parishioners stepped up to the plate and put their money where their mouth was 50 years ago, so now we told (parishioners) that it's your turn to step up and fund the church for today and for what it will be 50 years from now.''

After finalizing the design, the church presented its plans to the City of Mercer Island and the Design Commission.

But there was a delay.

``Apparently they were deluged with building permit requests last year, so there was a delay in our getting approved,'' said Adams. ``We didn't get to start construction until the fall.''

Fousher Construction broke ground on the new transept the first week of September, and will be finished with the project by the first week of March.

When construction is completed, all three of Emmanuel's buildings will be connected and the grounds re-landscaped.

During the loss of the main church space during construction, the congregation has made due.

Emmanuel's 320 families have had to crowd into the parish hall for many worship services. There were many services with just with standing-room-only, especially during holiday services.

But if all goes as planned, the congregation will be moving into a newly-carpeted worship area painted in shades of blue and brown, well before Easter services.

The new facility will be dedicated on March 6 at a service with Rev. Gardner, the pastor of Emmanuel and Bishop Warner, the head of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Washington.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church is located at 4400 86th Ave. S.E. and can be reached at 232-1572.

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