Built in 1888, First Congregational Church (UCC) of Colorado Springs occupies the oldest church building in the city still in continuous use by the same congregation.
Over the years, First Congregational Church has added newer buildings to its historic buildings, usually with no thought given to limited mobility access. For over 25 years, said the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Broadbent, the church had identified the need to make its facilities more accessible. In the mid-1990’s, plans had been drawn for an elevator, but due to a lack of funds were not completed.
In 2011, First Congregational Church launched a capital campaign to restore their sanctuary. Chunks of plaster had started falling from great heights, which had created quite a safety hazard. New plans for an elevator addition were added to the list of capital projects. In the meantime, the church secured a loan with the Cornerstone Fund to begin work on the sanctuary while pledges were being collected. At the end of the campaign, they had raised enough money to either pay off the loan or build the elevator addition (for which they lacked $800,000).
Conversation over this situation ensued, sprinkled with some controversy and disagreement. Finally, in January 2013, however, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to service the debt on the sanctuary and build the too-long-delayed elevator addition.
The completion of this project made 95% of First Congregational Church’s facility accessible. The new space was blessed on Sunday, May 24, 2013, and on that day, several members in wheelchairs were able to visit parts of the church they had never seen before.
During this exciting process for the church, member Siri Everett shared with leadership information about the The Accessible Icon Project, an ongoing work in design activism begun in 2010 as a guerilla street art campaign of placing a clear-backed sticker on top of parking signs depicting the International Symbol of Access. The church enthusiastically embraced changing the icons on the church’s property, and Everett, along with facility manager, Kirk Wohlhueter, made a presentation to city officials which led to a commitment by the city to begin incorporating the new accessible icons throughout Colorado Springs. First Congregational Church received an award from The Independence Center in Colorado Springs for their design.
“Our Cornerstone loan,” says Broadbent, “made it possible to make a bold decision to build an access corridor with an elevator simply by continuing to service the loan.”
Click here for a news story from The Gazette about First Congregational Church’s accessibility.