“If We Only Had the Space!” – Overcrowding at St. George’s

The Christian Education report was made to the Vestry and included a warning. “There is a space problem in the Preschool department. The following proposal was made to resolve the problem. The present 1st and 2nd grade room to be used by Kindergartens (5’s). 3 and 4’s to remain in the present location. Relocate the High School a.m. group and move 5th and 6th grades to 3rd floor in the present High School room. Move 1st and 2nd grades to 3rd floor in present High School room. Move 1st and 2nd grades to room vacated by 5th and 6th grades. “

2017? No! This was in the fall of 1986

Space has been a problem since the 18th century. The church’s original 1 acre in Fredericksburg was cut in half in the 1770’s when the parcel from the present church to Caroline Street was sold (and the funds never received).

Overtime space has been a recurring issue. During the Faulkner year’s today’s Sydnor Hall was used for Christian education with rooms divided by curtains. In 1959, McGuire Hall was added to take care of the growth of Christian education.  In that year, St. George’s had 532 communicants. By 1998, the Parochial reports showed 858.

In that year, Charles Sydnor was looking at acquiring Federal Hill for St. George’s. “It does appear we are qualified to take the estate if we are chosen.”   This late Georgian style house with Federal details was built c. 1792 by Robert Brooke, governor of Virginia from 1794 1796. He named his home “Federal Hill” after the Federalist Party which he helped found.

Richard Lanier, a Vestry man and son of Rev. Jabez Lanier who served St. George’s 1913-1922 bought Federal Hill at 504 Hanover St in 1946. This mansion dates from 1795 and was once owned by Virginia’s third governor Robert Brooke. There was a legal battle between the last owner Elizabeth Graves Lanier who died in 1996 and Lanier’s descendants. That was the connection Charles hoped to make but it was bought by a doctor Richard Maurer in 2005 after legal battle and restored in 2007.

The church established a long range planning committee beginning in March 2002. In a report to the Vestry, March 19, 2003 under commission chair Marion Rambo, they summarized their findings after meeting 11 times.

2020 vision is to double attendance (as opposed to membership)

  • Ideas on increasing attendance
    • Parking and facilities:
    • Parking is a real limitation to growth. It was suggested that people are willing to walk, at most, two or three blocks to attend church; this may be a serious limitation to increasing attendance.
    • Possibilities for parking include:
      • Proposed town parking garage
      • Establish a consortium of churches and businesses to build garage across the street.
      • Possibility of shuttle bus from remote parking
    • Acquiring Additional Property for Church Program
      • We need to develop a vision of need in order to support larger structure
      • Consider establishing a counseling center in a remote location (e.g., Central Park)
      • Mission church somewhere (explore sites with developers) either our own or a joint venture with another denomination
      • Establish a consortium of downtown churches might look into the possibility of pooling resources to purchase land (such as Farmer Meadows property on route 20) and construct a shared facility.


      • Possibility of leasing space (corner property may have space in future)
      • Corner property: it is not for sale; rental space may become available if the current tenant decides to vacate.
      • Architectural plans were drawn to include a third story in connection with the AIM 2000 expansion project. The third story was not undertaken because of funding at that time.  However, the structure is apparently capable of supporting an additional level, providing us the ability to “grow upward.”
      • Church School. Classroom space may possibly be at a maximum currently.  There was also discussion as to whether we should consider establishing a pre-school daycare facility.  This would require considerable effort and expense.
      • Increased staff – will be needed at some point; for example, if we decide to offer services and programs to attract non-English-speaking persons or to consider holding additional Sunday morning services. There was also a comment that we might be at a point of needing additional Christian Education staffing soon.
      • Our new music director is doing well with the adult choir and handbell choir.  We see a need to expand the music program, especially as it pertains to children, as this will attract young people who are looking for a church.

There were other voices for expansion. Nathan Ferrell was an assistant to Charles Sydnor only a short time from May 2002 until September 2003. His most profound work was in the role of change. His words fit into an important staffing memo he presented to the Vestry in August, 2003.  He said we would need a full-time youth minister, an education director, and an Outreach Director, as well as dividing the organist position from that of the Music Director.  We needed a part time receptionist.  He also said the primary issue facing St. George’s is space which could be approached by building and buying more space, and by planting new parishes with current members. 

His words were prophetic.  Fletcher Wells in 2007 became a full-time youth minister. Jan Saylor became a full-time Outreach Director in 2005.  For a time, the organist was separate from the Music Director in 2004 after Patricia Parker left though 10 years later a second music person was added.  We have also moved to part time receptionist though it is a volunteer position. 

Space issues accelerated during the Dannals years about the renovation (2007-2009) 

In 2006 the Christian education commission brought up the issue of overcrowding with the developing catechesis program and advocated adding space to the church renovation that would be getting underway a year later.  At the beginning of the program year in September, 2006, they reported over 100 children downstairs.

The youth had been planning to relocate to Sydnor Hall at the end of the renovation but this didn’t happen since sound from Sydnor would interfere with the newly created Celtic service.  There was a suggestion to move the Celtic service to 7pm to eliminate the conflict.

In February, 2008 the Vestry even discussed creating a video broadcast to ease overcrowding concerns

In May, 2008, a proposal was made to take down some of the walls on the existing youth Sunday school space on the third floor of McGuire. The archives’ room could be used as kitchen.  Another proposal was to move the Celtic service to 7pm. However, based on feedback 5:30M was the best time for the Celtic service. The youth also have other obligations at other times other than 5PM. 

Gay Rahn emphasized the need for youth to make their own space. The thought was that a larger space for both Sunday morning and evening would provide benefits to both programs. 

This proposal was delayed to the finding of structural issues on the 3rd floor. Apparently, the trusses had been notched creating structural issues from the time the floor had been renovated under AIM 2000 for wiring. This action has not been caught in the inspection of the room by the city.  While the kitchen was created in 2010, the new youth space was created at a cost under $30,000 in 2016 with a team led by Chip Willis

By the fall of 2009, it was obvious to Rev. Jim Dannals the Church needs to have additional permanent space for the Sunday programs.  He recommended the Vestry appoint a task force to find space for the offices so that existing offices can be converted to classrooms. He suggested looking to members who have a real estate background to serve on the task force. They were also looking to find a group of investors who would be interested in purchasing a building and rent it to us at a low rate.

Named to the committee were Linda Harris, Bobby Lee, Lee Rowe and Lewis Graves to serve on an ad hoc committee investigating new physical space needs for St. George’s by the fall of 2009. It was not clear whether the group ever met.

The Elsie Lewis Room was made multiple use by opening a door to the nursery so it could be used for meetings during the week but on Sundays served space for a toddler class.

The addition of the 3rd floor of McGuire had slowed efforts looking for additional space. The music department moved out of the basement and moved to the new 3rd floor. The lower floor  would be dedicated to Christian education.

In 2011 at a Parish Meeting Jeanette Cadwallender suggested the acquisition of more building space at the recent Parish meeting. Curtis Backus and Mike Kole were interested in working with a group to investigate. Jim’s recommendation was that these individuals work with an ad hoc committee formed by the Finance Committee and Buildings and Grounds.  They hope to find people willing to give either money or a building to allow for Church expansion

Delaying the acquisition of outside property was the creation of the preschool. St. George’s hired local architect, Raymond Herlong to meet the code requirements for an E Class certification for our Preschool space.  This required us to upgrade some of the interior and exterior lighting, add additional exist signs and replace 4 fire doors

Due to the modification of the basement space of McGuire, we were affected by a new building code adopted by the state of Virginia. We would have been affected by this code when we would make modifications of our facility whether we had a preschool. We had to bear the cost to obtain the Class Building occupancy. The process stretched from the fall of 2011 with the first expense in October until June, 2012. The total cost was $35,000

A space study was done under Dori Eglevsky by September, 2012. Dwight Roberson had completed then study for Buildings and Grounds. His charts showed’ that the chief building uses come from outreach, music, education and youth. Sydnor Hall was the most used space.  Dori said the report provides the foundation to move forward with its breakout by room and subject. The next step would be to assess if we needed to grow the space. Then we would have to appoint a group for that purpose. This was never done.

The Vestry during Rev. Joe Hensley’s put space as a key priority.

ln February, 2016 two taskforces were proposed. One on the youth floor and the other on space.  The former was identified as a priority for 2016. Rector Joe Hensley wrote the Vestry, “I really want to show  support for youth ministry and believe that a larger space that is newly decorated will send a clear  message that the parish cares about growing our youth program. I believe the space will be used effectively and that it will have a positive impact.” The youth space was renovated by August, 2016.

The second was external space. Space needs would be increasing since Level III catechesis was being prepared for 2017 which included 4th and 5″‘ grades and potentially 6’h grade.  Catechesis is space intensive with its many objects and needs “to spread out.”. By March 2015, 76 were participating in Catechesis compared 50 participating or enrolled in September, 2014. By March 2016, enrollment was up to 88 from at 76 from March, 2015.  

The preschool was also at maximum though adding Dutch door would improve the f1ow.  They were looking at space as a form of evangelism—”how can we use our space to welcome anyone (including passersby, tourists, new church members)?”

The church briefly considered purchasing the National Bank building and even sent a survey to  parishioners. However, the existing space would have to be redone substantially and the existing drive  through would have to be demolished at a high cost ($300K). The church might get property and price but it would require leasing it to others to pay the debt service. It would provide no immediate space and was not acceptable. Inside there was no bathroom on the first floor and would have to be substantially modified from a bank branch location.

During the spring, 2016, a group led by the Rector studied making an offer on another property, the Princess Anne Building across for the church. One of the partners Walter Sheffield had visited the church several times during the Dannals year hoping that the church would buy it.  initially he was going to wait until 2020 to retire.  “However, he let Mary Jane 0’Neill know that he was considering retirement from his legal practice by 2017. The church felt that it had to move in 2016, much earlier than expected.”

The church purchased an appraisal, reviewed existing leases and financials and talked with the partners under Walter Sheffield and Kenny Butzner. The appraisal was for $4.2 million and the church started the negotiations at $3.8 million. However, the partners were looking for a maximum price, adamant on receiving $6 million.  Market activity was accelerating in the downtown with new development of townhouses and retail space on William Street. The basement would be open for Christian education.

Later in 2017, they did allow the church to use 500 square feet of space free from Jan to May for 3rd, 4th and 5th’ grade classes. Thalheimer, the leasing agent, then leased it in June to another church  since the church was talking solely to the owners and not to Thalheimer. The space St. George’s was interested in was leased to another church.

A third property was considered. A group led by Doug Stewart investigated 922 Caroline Street, the former People’s Drug location for many years. The property was now vacant and a shell. The owner in Richmond wanted substantially more than the assessment. The building would require substantial planning to build it out and capital to proceed – in the millions. The obstacles were formidable and the church decided to look elsewhere.

Time was running out since it appeared there would not be enough space for the 3rd to the 5th grade in the program year 2017 which would begin in September. A real estate committee was approved by the Vestry in June, 2017 to investigate properties and to make recommendations.

By July, attention centered round two properties:
1. Renwick Court building. The city had corrected earlier mold problems and did a historical assessment in 2013. A public hearing on possible uses was yet to be scheduled. However, the city was interested in using the space. Rev. Joe Hensley developed a relationship with City Tim Baroody which led to a tour and a proposed lease. The original lease was for 5 years fixed at $500 a month which was not acceptable. The city modified this to 6 months with the ability to exit the least on 30 days notice  

2. 210/212 George Street. This was an earlier store location just across the Sydnor Hall on George Street. It was 2 small spaces and an upstairs with just over 1500 square feet. The owners proposed a lease of $2,000 a month. However, the church moved to consider purchase. This was the preferred property with the Renwick Courthouse as a fallback. The Vestry declined to purchase it due to mold problems in the basement that would be a significant cost to ameliorate and would delay the use of the property.