Questions about 3rd Avenue purchase

This is a summary of the questions which have been raised regarding the building project. Please feel free to comment below.

Why the rush? Why are we being asked to make this decision so quickly?

The sellers of the church need to close the deal soon because the church costs them money, and they do not have a congregation who tithes to pay for it.

About a year ago, the parish voted to sell all our existing property in order to buy a lot within an industrial area, and then take on a building project for an unknown amount of money. That was based on the hope that a developer would be interested in purchasing all our property in one group.

We approached several developers. Not a single one showed any interest at all. We know from experience that a buyer who is this interested is a rare thing.

Now there are two possible developers interested in purchasing the properties, but we need to give them a firm indication of our willingness to sell.

Why aren’t we building a church?

  • A new building takes at least two years to finish, likely more.
  • We are not sure that we are able to pay for a building, and manage the build, within the next 3-5 years.
  • Building materials have increased by 30% in the past year, making our earlier estimates of costs obsolete.
  • The price of a new building is at least 1 million, if not more. We could not sell all of our land to pay for it since we would be building where we are. We would be exposed to enormous risk, since projects almost always go over budget. We could end up with a half-built church that is not usable. And that scenario could continue for years.
  • Our mortgage, if we built a new church, would be in the vicinity of 700,00 or 800,00 minimum. With the purchase of 3rd Avenue our mortgage will be as low as 200,000.
  • If we build on Avenue F/30th Street, we would likely need to sell our current church building, probably to another church community. We might have another church next door, and more people trying to park in the area.
  • The work required from our community, would be immense. Can we truly count on people being able to volunteer the labour necessary? The 3rd Avenue purchase significantly reduces this risk.
  • While maintenance and utilities costs of the 3rd Avenue church are three times what they are for our current space, they would always be more for a new and bigger church. So would maintenance. We could also have $80,000 more per year in mortgage payments.

In previous years, the building committee identified a number of requirements for a new worship space, or a new church. Here are some of them:

  • Visibility to the wider community.
  • Access via public transportation.
  • Handicap access.
  • Larger space for our community’s use.

In these three areas, 3rd Avenue meets those requirements to a greater degree than a new building on Caswell hill.

Will insurance cost more money for a larger building?

Insuring the replacement value of a building worth ten million dollars or more is nearly impossible. It would cost us tens of thousands per month. We cannot insure it completely. We need to keep building up our building fund and be prepared for expenses. Insurance that we do continue to pay are such things as liability insurance.

Which bank are we using, and will they lend to us without insurance?

We are continuing to use Mennonite Trust, and they will lend to us based on the value of the land.

What does the Heritage Status mean for our use of the church building?

In it’s heritage status, the building is regulated under the City of Saskatoon, not the province. There was some confusion about this before. This means that we only have one agency to deal with. They have been very helpful, and the indication is that they will not be overbearing. We described to them what we would like to do with the church space, and they did not see any issues immediately.

Four aspects of the church are listed as heritage items: the organ, the ceiling acoustics, the stained glass windows, and the outer structure. We are not allowed to alter these unless we get permission first. Those are the only limitations to our use of the property.

We have asked for documents that describe these obligations, so that we have a record of them, and can refer to them when we are making decisions about how we use the church.

We are not required to allow people to visit the site (although why wouldn’t we?). The heritage act itself does not require us to allow anyone to use the organ or play concerts. The issue of the use of the church is a part of the seller’s contract, not the law. The seller (the United Church) wants to ensure that the organ can be heard. This is the wording from the offer to sell:

With respect to the pipe organ located on the Property (hereinafter referred to as the “Organ”), the Buyer shall grant licences to qualified organists to practice on the Organ and shall grant licences to members of the public to host/organize Organ concerts on the Property from time to time. No licence for use of the Organ or Organ Concerts shall be exercised in any manner that may interfere with the Buyer’s use of the Property. The aforementioned licences for practice on the Organ and for Organ concerts may be limited to 4 (four) concerts per year.

Our “use of the property,” may also include our Orthodox theological understanding of the sanctity of the space, and what may or may not be done in an Orthodox church.

What if a heritage item is broken?

If the heritage item is broken due to our negligence then we are obligated to fix it. If it is broken through some other means (vandalism, weather etc.) there will be case-by-case decisions about whether or not to bring them back to their original state. The city has money set aside to help us maintain these items.

Are Parish Council and the Building Committee in support of this proposal?

Yes. The proposal could not have been made otherwise. Parish council voted to move forward with the proposal, signing the conditional offer with the sellers, and making a deposit of $50,000. The building committee, likewise, is unanimously in favour.

Which lawyer are we working with?

Andrew Mason, who is also representing the sellers.

When will we be moving? When will we worship in the new space? Can we continue to use our current church during a transitional period? What are we taking with us in terms of equipment and furniture? What are the sellers leaving for us?

We will take possession of the new church on the 1st of July. When and how we will move our things remains to be seen. What we leave and take depends on who buys the building from us.

It is entirely possible that we would have a few extra weeks to move out, but we do not know, since we do not yet know who will be buying or using our old church.

We do not know what the sellers will leave or take with them. Emptying the church out is a time-consuming and possibly an expensive operation. We would assume that they would only be grateful for us to assume that responsibility, in which case we might be keeping everything. We need to ask.

Worshipping in the church is an easy fix, but it will be very provisional, and will not feel like home at first. It will take months, if not more than a year to do all the construction work required to make the space what we would normally have.

What are the maintenance issue in the church?

Fr. Herman has compiled a maintenance report, mostly based on a thorough inspection by Timothy and Rdr. David. They spent over an hour going through the whole building with the caretaker. Some of the information has also been gathered by members of the building committee.

The 3rd Avenue Church building is solid in its structure. There is, however, some work to be done.

The security system is very robust. There are eight security cameras around the building, on the outside and on the inside. They feed into a monitor, and are recorded.

The boiler seems to be in good working order. It was installed in the 1980’s, but the person we normally hire to work on our heating and ventilation system has said that a 1980’s boiler is rather new from the perspective of a person who works with boilers. All boilers require regular inspection when they are in use. Someone has to do a very quick check at least once a day. There is a cost. We might be able to find ways of minimizing that cost without neglecting safety in any way.

The elevator is very well kept and in good working order. It is much quieter than the elevator we have on Avenue E. We probably need a service contract with an elevator company, and we have asked them to visit the church this week in order to give us a quote.

The sellers told us at the outset that there was an issue with the kitchen ventilation. We have received a quote for fixing it, which is $3000. Less than we thought.

We have also asked for an estimate on what it would take to get the dishwasher in working order.

There has been water damage in the areas of the church underneath the flat roof areas. They are being repaired currently. There is also a small amount of beam damage in the nave. Mostly the water damage is aesthetic. There are ways of fixing it, but it is not a critical issue.

There are shingles missing on the asbestos roof (the slanted roof). These will be covered over when we complete the roof project.

Occasionally bats and mice get into the building. This is very normal for a building this size. It would be unrealistic to expect never to have this issue. They get in through various crevices.

There is a sump pump (it collects drainage water and leads it out into the sewer). It needs to be improved by using a new pipe system which probably would go along the ceiling of a hallway.

Are the maintenance and utilities costs too high?

The total maintenance and utilities cost for 3rd Avenue are projected to be $45.5k. The projection is based on their actual costs over the last five years. This is a significant increase, about three times as much as we are now paying.

In a build scenario, we would be looking at a projected $25k per year cost for those expenses, as well as $120k cost per year in mortgage payments, for a total of $145k in mortgage, utilities and maintenance expenses per year.

Side by side:

Maintenance & Utilities

Mortgage

Total

3rd Avenue

$45,500

$42,000

$87,500

New building

$25,000

$120,000

$145,000

Will the church be too large for us? Will we lose the intimate family feeling?

There is always the risk of the dynamics of a community changing in a new venue. Undeniably this is a much larger space, and we are not a big enough parish to fill it up in the way you might imagine it being filled at a large concert. However, our current church is too small (especially for Church School), and we’re faced with the choice of too big vs. too small. Many people favour having too much space over having too little.

There are several options available to us for mitigating this risk. There are ways to define the floor space in such a way that people will tend to congregate together in one area. Rugs can be placed in one area and not in another. Chairs can be placed only in one area. Other furniture or items can be placed in such a way that the obvious room for the congregation is towards the centre of the church.

There will be a committee formed to work on the use of the church spaces.

We might grow. I’m told that the Orthodox Church in Calgary, because it is in the centre of the city, grows by around 20 people per year. We will have much higher visibility, and perhaps we will begin to fill the space?

Furthermore, when people come into a new church, if more than 80% of the space is being used, the psychological effect on a visitor is that they don’t think there is space for them.

Are we too close to the Lighthouse homeless shelter? Will that cause problems?

This question is not a heartless question. The 3rd Avenue church has had issues with vandalism, theft and people sleeping in stairwells. The downtown area has these issues. We may also say, optimistically, that we will be able to minister to the poor.

In our current location we are often in contact with people who either suffer economically or struggle with substance abuse, not least of all our tenants. There is a needle drop-off box on the outside of one of our sheds. We have also had at least one attempted break-in, and we have a security system in place because we know we might need it.

But 3rd Avenue is much more visible, and much closer to the action. It will be a challenge. We will need to find creative ways to balance ministry with safety.

What is the parking situation?

We have several street parking spaces immediately next to the church, and across 3rd Avenue. We also have eight spaces at the back of the church in the alley.

The CRA parking lot next to the church is empty on Sundays.

Street parking is free on Sundays, and after 6pm on weekdays.

Handicap parking is free in metered spaces downtown for those who have a handicap tag, and who register for this free parking at city hall.

We will have a dialogue with the city about further needs.

What does the Metropolitan say?

He has delegated the report to a trusted advisor, and is waiting to hear back.