Historic Methodist church undergoing extensive renovations

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IDAHO FALLS — What once seemed like an insurmountable task is becoming a reality for the Trinity United Methodist Church.

“We went big, and we’ve succeeded. I’m so very thankful,” Trinity United Methodist Trustee Chairwoman Nancy Stewart says.

Trinity United Methodist Church on North Water Avenue is undergoing a $670,000 renovation — a project to help preserve the historic gothic-style structure from 1917.

The church’s original building was a two-story “stick” church that started to be built in 1895. It was roughly near the same plot of land on North Water Avenue.

But it wasn’t until the spring of 1916 church members broke ground for the current stone building. During construction of the new building, the original stick church burned down, Rev. Ruth Marsh says.

The Trinity United Methodist Church on North Water Ave. | Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com

Eighteen months later, in the fall of 1917, the new stone structure was finished and dedicated.

Stewart says the last time the church had an extensive remodel was in 1949 when its education wing was added.

This time around, “We decided to do the renovation because our roof was leaking, and we had water coming into the sanctuary,” Stewart says. “We feel that it’s our job to prepare this building for the next century.”

Stewart says for the last 18 years she’s been a member, the building has had roof and mortar issues. On top of that, the church had two non-working urinals and only had five toilets. Stewart says the bathrooms weren’t ADA compliant.

“I’m just so thrilled that we’re redoing our bathrooms. We’re redoing our kitchens upstairs to have a warming kitchen. … We’re going to refinish the hallways and the flooring, the electrical (work) in the hallways, and redoing windows,” Stewart says.

Water damage on the walls of the church. | Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com

Now the building will have double the restrooms they had before, with at least nine toilets and four urinals. It will have two family restrooms upstairs and downstairs, as well as two showers — one each for the men and women’s restroom. Builders are also adding an emergency exit in the basement.

“Often, when people stop by and need help, sometimes what they need worst of all is a shower and clean clothes, so that will be a need that we’ll be able to meet,” Marsh says.

Leaders have been aware of the imperfect infrastructure and leaking roof, but it was an impossible task due to lack of funds.

“(Leaks have) been an ongoing thing every winter for as long as anybody can remember,” Marsh says.

Marsh says at one point, a proposed resolution to the building’s problems was to sell the historical site.

The interior of the Trinity United Methodist Church. | Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com

“It’s difficult to do the upkeep on a beautiful historic building like that,” Marsh says.

Marsh and Stewart say the renovation was made possible by grants from the National Fund for Sacred Places, the William J. and Shirley A. Maeck Family Foundation, and the Idaho Heritage Trust. They say the congregation and community have pledged and followed through with their giving as well.

The National Fund for Sacred Places reached out to the church after leaders attended a training course on stonework in 2016.

“I think our name got out there that we would be good for a grant for restoration of our church, and so we got a phone call,” Stewart says. “We were in the right place and the right time. … Lo and behold a year and a half later, we got this grant for $190,000.”

Marsh says once they connected with Sacred Places, they were trained on how to do fundraising campaigns to sustain their church.

Renovation plan for the church. | Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com

“My degree is in theology, not in fundraising. That was one of the biggest factors because people had been looking at doing renovations for quite a long time,” Marsh says.

“We’ve always been kind of on a shoestring budget,” Stewart says.

The downtown church-house has been home to Methodists and many other community groups. Marsh says the building is full almost every day of the week.

Stewart says due to the construction, there hasn’t been a bathroom in the building since September, and church patrons have been using heated porta-potties. The building, however, is still operational. All renovations are expected to be done in March.

“It is our responsibility to make sure that we provide a welcoming place for the community,” Marsh says.