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Kingdom Hall renovations moving ahead in Wallingford

WALLINGFORD — When the Kingdom Hall on Cottage Street obtained its Sept. 17 variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals allowing it to remove and replace its canopy roof, it was one step in an overhaul designed to make the church handicapped accessible, according to Jeffrey Gordon, a member of Connecticut Regional Building Committee 1 of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Gordon, who is one of five members of Committee 1 and is in charge of project development, said replacing the existing, rectangular, shed roof and replacing it with an angled roof will enable construction of a handicapped ramp.

The church building was constructed in 1961 with the canopy roof serving as a “drive-through” for parishioners to get dropped off or picked up under shelter at the church entrance, he said.

Gordon said in 1974, the church added an “L-shaped” wing, rendering the former canopy drive-through a mere overhanging roof adjacent to the building extension.

Gordon said that besides the roof replacement and ramp construction, the church’s bathrooms will be ripped out and made handicapped accessible.

Several church offices that were located in the basement will also relocated to the first floor, he said.

Gordon estimated that the renovations will cost the church $125,000.

He said the church’s plans will require approvals from the building department and the fire marshal, in addition to the one already secured from ZBA.

The building department and the fire marshal will also have to inspect and sign off on the work done at the church once it is complete, he said.

The annual fire marshal’s report that the church received in 2012 prompted it to plan a “major refresh,” Gordon said, though he emphasized that the church’s initiatives to make its amenities handicapped accessible are “not a question of doing it because we’re being made to do it — we’re doing it because we chose to do it.”

Fred Pearson, the church’s Coordinator of the Body of Elders — the functional equivalent of a minister in the Jehovah’s Witnesses denomination — said the church has about 125 people in its congregation but no special need for handicapped accommodations based on the composition of its members.

Pearson said the church was practicing the ethic of social kindness by having a handicapped friendly facility so disabled people feel welcome within.

The utility of the church’s modifications will grow over time, as congregation members age and have more difficulty getting around, especially between floors, he said.

Gordon said he expects the renovations to be completed by the end of 2013 if no delays arise in the municipal process.

Pearson said the church’s work crew will only need a fraction of the intervening time to devote to the actual project.

Jehovah’s Witness volunteer teams’ have established a track record of remarkable turnaround times on labor projects, Pearson said. Teams used to build new Kingdom Halls — the name for churches in the Jehovah’s Witness faith — in two days, he said, using previously laid foundations.

The increased complexities of modern construction have necessitated an increase in the typical work schedule to three weekends. However, Pearson said in three weekends a team can have a new Kingdom Hall fully up and running, which includes being fully outfitted with plumbing, electric, air conditioning, carpeting and other furnishings.

Such church construction projects are known as “quick-builds” in denominational parlance, he said.

Remodels, such as the one planned at the Cottage Street facility, can be accomplished even faster, he added.

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