A unanimous vote by the township Planning Board gave the Holmdel Community United Church of Christ the green light on March 15 for a four phase expansion and renovation project at the historic site, located at 40 Main Street (Route 520) in Holmdel.
Holmdel Community Church was seeking final site plan approval to expand Fellowship Hall, add offices, classrooms, and meeting rooms, construct an open-air pavilion and covered walkway to connect the sanctuary to the Hall, and reconfigure the parking lot.
The $1.2 million capital improvement plan includes a proposed 6,670-feet of additional space.
According to Reverend Russell Eidmann-Hicks, this is the first major capital campaign since the addition of Fellowship Hall in 1866. The sanctuary, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is not included in the renovations.
"I am just amazed at the amount of documentation and statistics and measurements that go into a project like this," said Eidmann-Hicks at the end of the long evening, "and I'm just so grateful to the members of the church, many of whom stepped up and gave of their professional expertise pro bono, and to the planning board officials who've been so helpful to us through this process."
Over 30 church supporters listened to three hours of architectural, engineering, and site planning testimony. Rev. Russell Eidmann-Hicks began by giving the rich history of the church where congregations have worshiped since the late 1600s.
“Now we need increased space to accommodate the church's growing membership, our worship services, Sunday school, and continuing adult education,” said Eidmann-Hicks. “A big part of our ministry is our charitable outreach to the community, and having more space for missions like our "Bridges at the Shore" program will be a blessing.”
As well as enhancing the life of the church community, Eidmann-Hicks noted that these improvements will be made available to the community.
Marilyn Gentile of Colts Neck, the project's architect, used large scale renderings and architectural plans to illustrate floor plans, elevations, areas of historic preservation, set-backs, signage placement, environmentally sensitive areas, the historic 300-year old cemetery, and pre-existing zoning conditions. The plan to undertake construction in four phases was intentional, she said. It was described in detail in this Jan. 19 article on Holmdel Patch.
“Doing the project in phases will allow us to acquire the necessary funding incrementally, especially in this economy,” she said, “and it'll make construction more manageable.” Gentile designed the project so that at the end of each phase, the entire site will appear complete, avoiding the unsightly “under construction” look.
Planning Board members asked occasionally for clarification. Board member first alternate Kim LaMountain asked if the main buildings will be handicapped accessible.
“The church sanctuary and Fellowship Hall are fully accessible now and will remain so,” said Thomas Eddy, a Church Trustee and chair of the Building and Grounds Committee.
Board member Robert Reina inquired if the homeless were ever given shelter on church grounds.
“No, never,” said Eidmann-Hicks.
After all testimony had been given, Vice Chairman Greg Buontempo opened the meeting to public comment.
Joni Charles of Holmdel spoke in support of her church's plan and encouraged the planning board to accept it. Holmdel resident Lionel Menard, former director of Project PAUL, Keansburg, spoke movingly about the impact that the church has had on his family, although he isn't a member.
“As a parent, I can tell you that the church's Bridges program, through the schools, introduced my daughter to community service,” he said. “Not just to learn about it, but it allowed her to act on community service.”
That was true for hundreds and hundreds of Holmdel school children, he said.
“This church is so important to the community,” he concluded. “It makes Holmdel much better.”
Vice Chairman Greg Buontempo and board members Derek Dailey, John Mioduszewski, Sam Fasciano, Kim LaMountain, Robert Reina and the board's second alternate member Thomas King, all voted yes. Cheers and applause filled the room.
Absent from the meeting were Planning Board Chairman Peter Nelson, and members John Scagnelli, Mayor Pat Impreveduto, and Deputy Mayor Serena DiMaso.
Editor's note: The author of this article, Grace Modla, has attended services at Holmdel Community United Church of Christ.