Renovations can cause even the holiest of saints to falter. But for the people of St. George’s Guelph ministry continues in spite of the dust, drills and scaffolding.
The $1.2 million renovation project is focused on replacing the 60-year-old heating system, though plumbing and electrical upgrades are also involved. Because of the asbestos pipes of the old system the first part of the project, which began in May, was the removal of all hazardous materials.
New water pipes and radiators come later, along with an upgraded electrical system to accommodate the new boiler system and the updated electrical code. Other green initiatives are happening at the same time: low-flow toilets, efficient lighting and new fans in the sanctuary to circulate the air.
The newly installed LED lighting in the church and at the front of the building will significantly reduce energy usage. “At full power, it is estimated that before the lighting was done we were using 15,000 to 18,000 watts. This has now been reduced to between 5,000 and 6,000 watts,” says Facility Coordinator Mike Blythe.
The organ, a 1926 Casavant pipe organ, is being renovated and thoroughly cleaned. Solid state components will replace aging leather contacts and digital technology will add to the tonal resources of this remarkable instrument, long regarded as one of the finest in southwestern Ontario. St. George’s has become a sought-after concert venue because of the organ and soaring acoustics of the church. To celebrate the newly renovated organ, a screening of the silent film Phantom of the Opera, featuring live organ accompaniment by William O’Meara, will be held on October 28. The Guelph Connections Concerts—the popular, free chamber music series offered by St. George’s to the community—will resume in the fall.
Like any renovations, the work has been hallmarked by noise, dust, surprises and inconvenience. The removal of water pipes necessitated drilling through old stone walls. Some creative plumbing was discovered and corrected. Contractors’ vans fill the already small parking lot throughout the week, causing some parishioners to grumble. During one week, a giant scaffold was installed and disassembled in the church between Sundays, so that the upgraded lighting and fans could be installed 50 feet up from the floor. Plumbing work meant washrooms were shut down or kitchens temporarily unavailable.
Though normal church activities have slowed down, they haven’t stopped.
St. George’s has still been able to have regular services every Sunday, as well as most of their mid-week services. The church’s major tenant, Workside Early Childhood Education Centre, continued to welcome little children. Weddings have been held, and funerals from small to large (over 450 people). The financial burden of the renovation project has not stopped the congregation from sponsoring a refugee family from Syria. The Atieh family arrived in late April with their triplets, and the fundraising golf tournament in June was enthusiastically attended, generating over $15,000 for outreach.
Nonetheless, in spite of managing through the summer, the people of St. George’s will be glad when the renovation project is completed. When the dust settles, the church will be left with an efficient and reliable heating system, a greener footprint and a renewed investment in the city of Guelph. “Not only will we have made a strong statement of our commitment to remain present and meaningful as an Anglican centre in Guelph,” says Rector Ralph Blackman, “but when we’re past the immediate physical needs of the building, we will be able to fully engage this question: What other ministry and community partnerships can we build?”
Jeanette Duncan is the Parish Administrator at St. George’s Guelph.