NEWFANE -- Members of the Newfane Congregational Church celebrated Sunday as they broke ground on a $250,000 expansion to their historic 175-year-old building.
Following their regular service, about 30 people gathered behind the church surrounding the area where contractors are expected to build a two-story expansion of more than 1,000 square feet starting next month.
Church members young and old each took their turn with one of the shovels unearthing the soon-to-be construction site.
Neil "Bucky" Pelsue, chairman of the Capital Campaign Executive Committee, said the day was long coming.
"Today we're adding another historical moment to our rich history," Pelsue said. "It's so wonderful to see this dream coming true. We desperately needed to improve our handy-capable access and it's only through the generosity of others that we can do this."
As of Sunday, the church had raised about 80 percent or $204,466 of its quarter-million dollar goal and Pelsue said he was "stunned" to learn that so many people had responded so quickly.
"We're not a wealthy community by any means," he said. "But we're rich in love and caring individuals who know how important this expansion is."
A major reason for the project is the need for improved wheelchair access to the second floor of the building where the congregational hall is.
For a person who is physically challenged, they have to traverse up the main steps or try and
In 2010 a used chairlift was installed up along one of the two staircases, replacing the previous one donated in 1980, but it offers its own set of problems.
Church officials said many people don't feel comfortable using the lift because it blocks most of the stairwell, preventing anyone else from getting up or down.
Seeing the project actually get under way is a "blessing" because of the years of work that have gone into it, Wilson said.
"It's been so long that we've toyed together with ideas about how to make this work," he said. "Now we're seeing it finally come together and I couldn't be happier about it."
Pelsue said the church building has served as the meetinghouse for countless Easter and Christmas services, luncheons, concerts, baptisms, weddings and funerals in its nearly two centuries of use.
"Our church has been around for about 238 years as part of the Newfane community," he said. "We'd like to be around another 200 plus years, and that'll only be possible because of the Rick (Wilson's) vision and the giving nature of these wonderful people."
Among the local donors, Ed and Terri Druke, owners of WW Building Supply, said they're doing everything they can to get businesses to donate materials for the project.
"They really helped us out after Tropical Storm Irene," Ed said. "This is a great community and we wanted to give back."
The project is also expected to provide huge energy savings for the church by creating dedicated office space with individual thermostats for the pastor and the church secretary, Wilson said.
"Now they won't have to heat and light the large meeting space that currently serves as their office," he said.
Construction is scheduled to begin on Aug. 6.
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.newfanechurch.org.
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.