Upon this rock, a new youth center

The Missouri United Methodist Church struggles to balance architectural aesthetic with expansion. The new building will give the congregation another 26,000 square feet for fellowship.
Monday, May 1, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:00 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Since its dedication in 1929, the Missouri United Methodist Church has become something of a landmark in downtown Columbia.

With its towering limestone walls and arched red doors, the Ninth Street building is a classic of cathedral design and construction. So, when the time came for Missouri United Methodist to build an addition, the Rev. Jim Bryan knew he had a dilemma.

“Our majestic original building remains a source of beauty and pride,” said Bryan, the church’s pastor. “We cannot possibly match the grandeur of the 1930 sanctuary.”

Indeed, when the construction that now dominates the corner of Ninth and Elm streets is completed, the old and the new structures are intended to complement each other, the project architect said. The 26,000-square-foot addition is being framed in steel and covered by large, pre-cast concrete walls of a much paler hue than the slate-gray limestone on the church.

For now, the addition’s initial impression is perhaps best summed up by architect Bill Morgan, of Simon Oswald Associates. On a recent walk-through of the construction site, Morgan stopped, looked up and said: “It’s big.”

The design for the new building — a youth, education and community center — “picked up details” from the architecture of the original structure, Morgan said. Large windows, for example, will consist of colored glass to symbolize the stained glass in the church building.

“The intent was to reference the existing church without mimicking it,” he said.

Missouri United Methodist was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 4, 1980, a designation that will not be affected by the expansion, Bryan said.

Missouri United Methodist has about 2,000 members, with services drawing between 850 and 950 people each week. The church was running out of space and the addition is overdue, Bryan said. The church decided to build the addition where Wendy’s was located at Ninth and Elm.

“We were using the old Wendy’s building for youth and other activities, and it was totally inadequate,” he said.

Planning for the expansion started about four years ago, Morgan said. The original design included a four-story addition with an $8 million price tag. That was eventually changed to the current two-story, $4.7 million project that will house six classrooms, new space for the church’s youth and music programs, a community room, a full-service kitchen, dining area and a multi-purpose room with a performance stage and recreation space.

The site will also include a patio and perhaps a garden open to the public. The cost is being paid by “the faith and generosity of the wonderful people who worship here,” Bryan said.

Kevin Klinkenberg, an architect with 180 Degrees Design in Kansas City, said there has been a debate among architectural and historic preservationists about expansions and additions. Many architects think that rather than trying to replicate the look of the original, new construction on historic buildings should be visually different from the original buildings.

“Usually that means starkly different,” said Klinkenberg, who adds that he disagrees with this approach. “There are a great many examples nowadays of additions to historic structures that are more sympathetic architecturally, and which tend to find favor with the general public,” Klinkenberg said.

Church design and construction are not bound by the same zoning regulations as other local development projects, said Jim Paneck, Columbia’s chief building inspector. However, Paneck said the church submitted design drawings and obtained demolition and building permits. Commercial zoning allows construction to take place right up to the property line, and the project will result in the loss of a “considerable amount of parking,” Paneck said. But off-street parking would not be required of any development with the same zoning designation.

Stephen Filmanowicz, communications director at the Congress for New Urbanism in Chicago, said his first impression of the addition is that the largely windowless concrete wall facing Elm Street doesn’t contribute much to the area’s aesthetics.

“It suffers from comparison to the old building, which does a lot to engage passers-by,” said Filmanowicz, who was hesitant to offer much criticism, good or bad, at this point in the construction process.

Benyamin Schwarz, a professor of architectural studies at MU, also said it’s too early to pass judgment on the building.

“People are used to the open corner there, and they may feel it’s too large,” Schwarz said. “If you look at many of the buildings downtown, they’re on the same scale.”

Carrie Gartner, executive director of Columbia’s downtown Special Business District, said the church strived to do what was best for the surrounding area while meeting its space needs. Plans originally called for the lot to include more parking, but the building eventually followed the downtown “tradition” of building up to the sidewalk, Gartner said.

For Mike Geiss, co-owner of Campus Bar and Grill, just across Elm Street from the construction site, the project is a mixed bag. The work “snarls up traffic,” which doesn’t help his delivery service, but it has also fed him a steady stream of hungry construction workers.

“I think it’s going to be a great project when it’s all finished,” Geiss said. “It’s great for the youth.”

Kurt Mirtsching, co-owner of Shakespeare’s Pizza, said customers have been commenting on the construction, but they have been more curious than critical. The new building will definitely improve the view from Shakespeare’s, he said. “It’ll be wildly more attractive than the old Wendy’s.”

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