Amid mountains of abandoned mess, the Word appeared. To the faithful, it was a sign.
The faithful were on a pilgrimage to a boarded-up building in the Hill’s Trowbridge Square section.
It was maybe 25 degrees inside the boarded up-building. Snow gently drifted down through the broken skylights.
The gymnasium floor was buckled; all the pipes had been stripped and the copper stolen long ago. Abandoned files of papers from drill teams past, deflated basketballs, a crib, lonesome single sneakers and other piled up detritus were strewn across every square foot of the building.
Yet this place—the 1925 handsome pile of bricks that had last been the Barbell Club in Trowbridge Square—was, in the view of visitors walking through, destined to become the new home of their church.
The boxes of bibles they found proved it.
Pastor Carla Robinson, James Bethune, and other leaders of Healing and Deliverance Outreach Ministries, found the bIbles and observed the mess Tuesday morning when they finally got a chance to tour the old the building they hope to buy and renovate through their church, which currently operated out of a private home in Beaver Hills.
The church wants to buy the abandoned Barbell Club—aka “Hill Cooperative Youth Center” and before that the Trowbridge School—from the city. The city is hesitant to sell to the church because the property has a deed restricting the property to recreational use. But the parks and recreation department agreed to give church members Tuesday’s tour.
Click here to read a previous story on the church’s attempts to see the property and begin negotiating with the city.
On Tuesday, walking gingerly in boots and with large-beamed flashlights in hand, church members walked through debris and through ice-cold, dark rooms to check out the conditions.
It did not take long to confirm the other big obstacle to their dreams: at least $500,000 to a cool $1 million in renovation costs, Bethune estimated, just to get the envelope of the structure secure.
After an hour’s careful promenade of the building, which retains charm including undamaged murals in the gymnasium, Robinson and her team were undaunted by the costs ahead, should they be allowed to proceed.
“There are grants,” said Bethune, the church’s treasurer.
“I love the skylights. It feels good,” said Pastor Robinson. She had already identified the gym with its six bright, albeit now leaking, skylights as the location for the sanctuary. Finding a 1901 large Bible there confirmed her choice.
There was a room for daycare already set up up; the crib they found had been positioned by someone back in the 1980s. They pictured another room for the church’s praise-dancing studio. They discussed putting the kitchen in the basement, which currently looks like a bomb had gone off in it, with stripped pipe covers and rubble strewn everywhere.
Back To Mr. Golia’s Classroom
At 11:05 a.m., parks department electrician Jim Wankowicz opened the front door. That’s usually a plumber’s job; the plumber was occupied. So Wankowicz dug out the key that read “Trowbridge,” and it worked.
The building has been shuttered for at least six or seven years. Wankowicz said a year ago a crew came to inspect and had to shoo out squatters.
“This is the first time I’m going to be in this building since the eighth grade,” said Bethune, who made that out to be 1975.
Maria Edwards’s eyes opened wide as she stepped into the small lobby. “My kids went here when it was the Barbell Club,” she said.
She did not notice at first that underfoot were files upon files from that era, including applications requiring parents’ signatures for kids to join the Phoenix Drill Team.
After looking up at the many skylights and murals in the gym, with its white rope nets still hanging invitingly from the hoops, Bethune made a bee line through the gym to the room at the far right corner.
“That’s Mr. Golia’s class,” he said. Mr. Golia was his teacher in this room in the eighth grade.
Bethune then tried to visit the principal’s office—he’d been there a few times as an outspoken student— to the right of the lobby. It could not be entered for the broken chairs and desks piled in the doorway.
Down the concrete steps to the dark basement the team went. There they saw the floor covered by stripped housing that had been around the stolen copper pipes. Rubble was everywhere. The furnace didn’t look too old to Bethune’s eyes; he thought he spied a hotpwaiter heater in the far corner that looked relatively recent.
Emerging back up in the gym, Robinson and Edwards were delighted to find the large bible in good shape except for a gone cover. “Signs and wonders follow the believer,” Robinson paraphrased from the New Testament.
Wankowicz estimated it would take $500,000 “to get the building up to a C.O. [certificate of occupancy].”
When Edwards spoke of feeding the neighborhood, Wankowicz upped his guesstimate: maybe twice that to include a commercial kitchen.
“It’s not as bad as I thought. This is doable. This could work,” said Robinson.
As they left, church Elder Joseph Robinson emerged with two boxes of bibles found in another room.
Wankowicz gave them the nod that it was OK to take them.
“We struck gold,” said 17-year-old church member Janyce Bethune. [School was out due to snow.]
“We don’t have enough bibles for people in our church. We’ll utilize them now and when we return here,” said Joseph Robinson.
Tat may not be so simple. Assuming it can change the city’s mind and buy the property, the church plans to rely nearly entirely on grants to do the renovation. And before that there’s the legal hurdle of the restricted deed that must be overcome.
As the church members got into their cars to return to their jobs, a family meandered by playing in the snow on their way to Trowbridge Square Park. The older member had not seen the door of the building open in a long time. “They have basketball inside,” he recalled aloud.
When told a church is contemplating buying the building, the woman, who did not want to be identified, said “If they build a church, they’re not going to get the neighborhood in there.”
We’re going to have “everything the club did,” Edwards replied, “and more.”