LACONIA — When the Congregational Church pondered how to best connect its sanctuary and parish house, it also seized the opportunity to maintain and enhance the passage between downtown and Veterans Square, at once providing greater convenience to its members and making a generous offering to the community.
"The visioning began about five years ago," recalled Pastor Warren Bouton, explaining the church was casting about for projects to undertake. "We asked what would be exciting," he said, explaining that renovating the kitchen and upgrading the elevators, though necessary, did not pass the test. Instead, discussion turned to connecting the two buildings.
Bouton noted that a driveway ran between from the two buildings, linking the city parking lot with Veterans' Square. An elevator opens directly on to the driveway, presenting a hazard as well as leaving parishioners standing in the rain and snow. Moreover, getting from the sanctuary to the parish house required going down one staircase, up another, then across the driveway through dingy stairwells.
But, Bouton explained a simple passage between the buildings would eliminate what he called "the thoroughfare for the community" between the parking lot and Veteran's Square. To preserve the access, the church chose to build an elevated bridge spanning a brick walkway lined with flower beds leading to a small plaza surrounded by lawn and graced with granite benches adjacent to the parking lot. "We called it the community way project," Bouton said. At the same time, the parking lot was reconfigured and while reserving three spots for itself, the church donated twice that number to an extension of the city lot.
The bridge, enclosed in glass, leads to remodeled foyers, both open and filled with light, on either side. Bouton said that when the children first made the trip from the sanctuary to the parish house, one, so used to snaking up and down the dark staircases, exclaimed "it's so bright!"
Bouton expressed his appreciation to all those, including the building committee of the church and the city officials, who he stressed "gave us lots of support in designing and developing the project."
Like the Gateway Plaza and the landscaping at the junction of Pleasant Street and Main Street, the community way at the Congregational Church adds an eye catching feature that enriches the character of downtown.
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