Youth and adults at First Church of Christ did a little digging Sunday afternoon.
They were not looking for buried treasure. Instead they hope the shovelfuls of dirt that they flung will be the beginning of an investment that is treasured for years to come.
A groundbreaking ceremony called Dogs and Digs marked the start of a $2.8 million expansion project that will double the size of the worship area.
(Courtesy photo) Konnor Broadrick and Ashlyn Finnegan were among the estimated 300 people who took part in a groundbreaking ceremony at First Church of Christ, 113 Good Shepherd Road, Sunday. The church is enlarging its sanctuary and adding a multipurpose room among other improvements.
Pastor John Collins said most groundbreakings involved dignitaries symbolically moving shovelfuls of dirt. At First Church of Christ, the members were invited to a hot dog lunch and everyone who brought a shovel could pick a spot to be part of the groundbreaking.
When it is completed, the addition will change the building at 113 Good Shepherd Road in Juniata Gap in three ways, Collins said.
It will double the size of the auditorium.
A new entry way will provide a common area to facilitate people coming and going between services.
A multipurpose room will double as a gymnasium for sports, games and social activities. It will include a new kitchen and restrooms.
Both sides of the sanctuary and the education area will be expanded, Collins said.
Outside the worship center, more parking spaces will be added.
Collins said the plan to improve the facility on the 12-acre campus started five years ago.
"We were out of space in every way," he said.
"You come to church and there is no place to park," said Bob Hocutt, chairman of the First Church of Christ board. "We are bursting at the seams, and it's getting worse," he said. "Kids are a huge part of what we do and the church and the house [church offices and classrooms] across the street are full of activities."
Hocutt said the board agreed to the expansion project in 2008, but wanted to have some money in place so the church would not take on the expense of a major debt.
"We believe in being good stewards of God's money," he said.
In the interim, the church worked with the architect to redesign the proposed facility and reduce costs.
"It's more functional than it was five years ago," Hocutt said.
During the wait, the church raised money for the project. It has $1.1 million on hand with another $500,000 committed in pledges, Collins said.
The remaining cost will be financed.
Collins said Lawruk Builders Inc. will do the construction work and the project is expected to be completed by Christmas.
During the winter months, the multipurpose room will get a lot of use.
Collins said it will not be quite the size of a regulation gymnasium, but teens and others will be able to play volleyball and basketball. The walls will be padded for safety, he said.
The room also will be used by Penn State Altoona college students who belong to a group that partners with the church.
With the children's department just down the hall, the space will give youth a place to play and will enhance the vacation Bible school program in the summer, Collins said.
Connie Iscrupe, director of children's ministries, plans to hold junior church or Kids Own Worship services in the room.
"Our space is so small. We are bumper to bumper with children," she said.
Iscrupe, who oversees the programs for children from birth through sixth grade, said a new nursery wing is part of the plan and it will provide more safety and protection for children.
In addition to a bigger area for worship, the multipurpose room will benefit children who attend the preschool during the week.
She said First Church of Christ will be able to bring in more children and "to teach them that not only do people care about them but most of all, they are loved by God."
Upstairs, the enlarged sanctuary will allow the church to schedule two worship services instead of the current three.
Collins said the auditorium seats about 280 people with Sunday attendance at about 850 people. The new sanctuary will seat about 650 people.
Overall, " First Church is expanding its facility to better minister to our community," Collins said.