BRATTLEBORO -- Just about every single room in the historic St. Michael's Episcopal Church was improved during the churches $1.25 million renovation which was recently completed.
There is a new elevator and all of the doors have been widened to improve accessibility.
There is a new heating system throughout the buildings, an expanded community meeting room and even the sanctuary received minor upgrades.
Parish Administrator Jeanie Crosby said one of the most striking changes is the sudden spike in community use in the church.
One of the reasons the members of St. Michael's Episcopal took on the challenge of renovating the 156-year-old church was to make the buildings more accessible to everyone and Crosby says local groups have been receptive.
"When people used to call and ask to use a room I would just say ‘yes,'" Crosby said during a recent tour of the church. "Now I have to look it up to make sure it is available. It is getting difficult to schedule."
There are still small touches that need finishing but for the most part the renovation project, which was the biggest upgrade to the church since the building was moved from Main Street to Putney Road in 1957, has been completed.
The original plan to renovate the church goes all the way back to 2005 when the church received a letter from someone in a wheelchair who attended a concert.
The letter stated that the concert attendee was disappointed with the accessibility within the building and church members began talking about making sure every corner of the church was available to anyone who wanted to visit.
At around the same time some preliminary inspections of the historic building found that there were structural issues that required attention.
Over the next year church members formed committees, began talking about their hopes for the project, and started to raise money.
"A lot of planning went into this," said Michael Wilmott, co-chairman of the Capital Campaign Committee. "We knew this was a big project and we would only be doing it once. It took us a long time to process all of our ideas."
Starting with the original idea of improving accessibility and tackling the structural issues, the plan quickly grew into a building-wide project.
A new elevator was needed and all of the doors were widened.
To pay for the project the church sold off a piece of land it owned for $100,000 and borrowed another $100,000 from the diocese and from parishioners.
Beyond that, Wilmott said, supporters came through and the church was able to raise about $800,000 within six months.
"It was obvious we needed to upgrade the church. People understood that," he said. "They were very aware of the need, and there was a lot of participation. The parishioners were very generous in their support."
The Rev. Mary Lindquist arrived at the church about two years ago and said the plans were well under way, though construction was just about to start when she came to Brattleboro.
Work started in the summer of 2012 and for about four-and-a-half months while work was under way in the sanctuary, early Sunday services were held at Christ Church in Guilford, while the more popular late morning services were held at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden on Main Street.
From the start parishioners wanted a smaller chapel, but there was not enough money, nor space available in the early drawings.
After the project started, architects found an unused space on the south side of the building.
At around the same time a long time church member, Helen Daly, became ill and before she died she gave the church money to build the new room, The Chapel of Mary Magdalen, The First Apostle.
The chapel, a small room devoted to prayer, was filled with locally produced tables, bowls and glass.
The room is open for prayer, and Lindquist said the other rooms are available for everything from 12-step programs to concerts, yoga and tai chi.
Lindquist says the church has been as busy as ever, and it hopes to expand its services by offering space in the various rooms.
"This all started because we wanted to improve accessibility. We want the building to be used. We want it to be a community resource," she said. "A lot of the people who gave money for this did it for future generations, to serve the community. I think what this shows is that we plan to be here for a long time."
St. Michael's Episcopal Church is holding an open house to show off the new church on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 2 to 4 p.m., and events will be held throughout the weekend.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter .