Ben Salem United Church of Christ in Lehighton plans to break ground on a $1.2 million expansion at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, with the community invited to attend.
Ken Scherer, who sits on the project committee, said the approximately 5,000-square-foot addition will include additional classroom space, a recreation hall and a kitchen.
It's the second phase of a project that began in 2001 when the church, at 1965 Church Hill Road, was built. The first part of the building was constructed with a false wall at one end because church leadership planned for an attached addition in the future.
"Classes are currently conducted in a storage area, so this will be a great boost for us," Scherer said. "The combination recreation/social hall will be much larger than what we are using now, and a new kitchen will help us continue our reputation for having great food."
The initial phase of the project, costing $1.5 million, featured a 450-seat sanctuary, chapel, educational rooms and office space. Scherer said that building was paid off within 10 years.
"We did some fundraising for the down payment on the first phase of the project," said Sharon Elder, Ben Salem UCC board president. "We have about 10 to 12 fundraisers each year including a strawberry social and a spring bazaar."
Sharon's husband, Jeff Elder, one of Ben Salem's 470 members, has done his part to get the word out about the church's addition. Using a 1930 Ford Model A cab pickup with parts he collected over 30 years, Jeff has been hauling a sign made by Hawk Signs of Palmerton. One side reads, "Future Coming Soon, Ben Salem UCC, Phase II," and the other side includes the church's mission statement and an artist rendering of the planned addition.
"I drove around Lehighton and surrounding communities for around three weeks, and people have actually stopped what they are doing and read the sign," Jeff said. "We just want to get the word out about our church's vision and what we are doing."
Excavation for the addition is scheduled to start in September with the building hopefully ready to use by May 2015.
Arthur Funk and Sons of Lebanon is the contractor for the project, as they were for phase one.
The Rev. Michael McGowan, Ben Salem UCC pastor, said the theme behind the addition is, "completing the vision."
"We have a beautiful facility out here, and this really rounds things out," McGowan said. "Our vision is for the social hall to be utilized to bring events to the community. Whether that is entertainment or informative events, we want it to be used in a way that benefits the entire community."
Sunday's groundbreaking will be sentimental for Jeff Elder. Church officials are planning to use a hand plow first used in 2001 when a similar ceremony was held for the first phase of the project.
"I wasn't really involved with the church up until that day, when I spoke to the pastor at the time and he asked me if I would be interested in playing music on Sundays," he said. "Since that time, I haven't missed many weeks here. We hope the community will come out Sunday like I did in 2001 and see what we're all about."