Rural church embarks on activity center addition

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  • Shown is a model of the future activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Ed Van Scoten, chairman of the building committee for the activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley.

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    Figurines are shown outside a model of the activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley.

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    Shown is a model of the activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley on Wednesday, Oct. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Shown is a model of the activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley on Wednesday, Oct. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Shown is a model of the future activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Ed Van Scoten, chairman of the building committee for the activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley.

  • 2

    Figurines are shown outside a model of the activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley.

  • 3

    Shown is a model of the activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley on Wednesday, Oct. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Shown is a model of the activity center at Stillwater Free Lutheran Church in West Valley on Wednesday, Oct. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

Stillwater Free Lutheran Church will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for a new 9,000-square-foot activity center at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13.

After years of fundraising and planning, church leaders say they are finally at the point where they can move forward with the activity center’s construction. They tentatively plan to have the massive new building completed and open for community events and youth programs by 2021.

“It’s been a real blessing to see it grow to where it is today,” said Ed Van Scoten, chairman of the building committee for the activity center. He said the project has been in the works for well over a decade as the church — built in 1911— has become increasingly pressed for space.

“This vision goes back 15 years. We’ve come a long way in taking that vision and putting it into reality,” Van Scoten said.

They launched a five-year building plan in 2016. “Right now we’re really right on target,” he reported.

The congregation plans to build the new center in four phases, starting with the “core room” that is the size of a middle school gymnasium. With space for a full volleyball court, the core room should be able to start accommodating youth activities as soon as it is completed, even while the rest of the building is under construction.

After that, they will build a full-service kitchen and bathrooms, offices and storerooms and finally classrooms, although Van Scoten and the Rev. Craig Scavo pointed out the plans are subject to change in the next couple of years.

They hope the addition will address their need for more space to house expanding youth programs and crowded community gatherings.

The planned space is “almost unbelievable considering what we have now,” Van Scoten commented.

“The kitchen and little rec area are all we have,” for an after-school partnership with West Valley School, Bible studies, growing youth programs and community outreach events, Scavo said. “The Awanas circle [for children’s activities] is supposed to be 30 feet. Ours is less than 15 feet.”

“It’s not just for the church [congregation], but for outreach,” Scavo added. The church holds a variety of community events, such as dinners for the West Valley Fire Department and live music events in the outdoor space. The congregation’s mission statement is “to share Jesus Christ with our neighbors,” said Scavo, so he said he hopes the additional space will allow them to continue “reaching out to the community.”

But the project has taken years to get off the ground, in large part because of the costs of expanding into a new facility. Over the years, Van Scoten said they have discovered many hidden costs and unexpected regulations.

The project was originally estimated to cost $1.2 million, and Scavo said they have been able to raise $500,000, or about half of their total, in three years.

“It’s really commendable of this small congregation,” Van Scoten said. The funds have come from a mix of donations from the congregation, support from outside entities in the community, fundraising events such as a classic car raffle and contributions from a sister church in Washington state. “We’re hoping and praying that continues,” he added.

Even though they have been gradually preparing for the new construction over many years, Van Scoten and Scavo said Sunday’s groundbreaking ceremony will be the first official introduction of the project to the greater community.

The groundbreaking will take place at 11 a.m. after the church’s regular 10 a.m. service. Scavo said they will keep the ceremony “short and sweet,” as a few of the oldest and youngest members of the congregation—as old as 90 and as young as 1 year old—dig the first symbolic shovels of dirt for the activity center’s future home.

This will be followed by their annual harvest dinner, which Scavo described as “like Oktoberfest, but Norwegian.” They will serve specialty foods such as lefse, a thin Norwegian potato pancake, and Scavo insisted all are welcome to attend.

Stillwater Free Lutheran Church is located at 1401 Church Drive.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at bserbin@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.

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