Building for the Future
About the Task Force
From the Congregational
Conversation (Sept 2012)
From Other Conversations
Meeting with Long-Time Members (April 2013)
Board President's Letter to the Congregation, June 2012
Early in the fall of 2011, as a result of several converging elements, the Board realized there was a need for the congregation to take a focused look at our physical space in terms of how well it serves our vision and our community. One of these elements was the ever increasing swell of people attending worship on Sunday, to the point that the choir was moved to the stage to make room. There was also an upsurge in the demands on available space for members and groups, especially on Sunday. There was the recognition that not only does our building need some significant repairs due to general wear and tear but also that there is a desire for additional/ new facilities or functionality – an improved elevator is only one example. Finally, there was an indication of renewed interest in our property by some unsolicited offers from developers.
Any exploration of how well our physical space serves our vision and our community would include a review and consolidation of previous Realty Task Force reports, so that we were not merely repeating work that had been done. It was also vital that, as in the past, there be consultation in the congregation, especially since we have many new members since the last report.
In January the Board struck the Building for the Future Task Force, to review and consolidate previous reports and move forward with consultations and eventually provide recommendations. Chaired by Nancy Lee, the team consists of Gillian Burton, Terry Lee, Darryl Neate, Greg Papp, and Doug Buck. It is a combination of members from the previous Real Estate Task Force, for some continuity, as well as new members who bring fresh perspectives and skills.
The Task Force will be coming to us, the members of the congregation, for our input. It is the hope of the Board, and the Task Force, that everyone actively participates in the broad discussion which will start officially at the Congregational Conversation on September 16th, 2012.
President, Board of Trustees
Task Force Chair's Reflection, January 20, 2013
During the fall of 2012 we undertook extensive consultations with the congregation – through Congregational meetings, questionnaires, focus groups, etc. We have analyzed all the information you gave us. Patterns are emerging, which I want to share with you today, one year into this process.
At the first Congregational Conversation in September 2012, we discussed hopes and fears. People had a lot of anxiety about what we were getting into. The two main fears were money – what is this going to cost - and a fear that the process would be either too short and short-sighted or that it would be too long and drawn out. I sense that by now, people are feeling it has been going on forever and we need to come to some decisions.
We are working towards that goal and getting closer.
What We Have Learned
In this building, the areas that you mentioned as most unsatisfactory were accessibility, the kitchen, and space for youth.
In your ideal building of the future (whether here or elsewhere), you told us that the most important features are: accessibility; a kitchen capable of handling large gatherings; a quiet efficient heating, cooling and ventilating system; good acoustics in this hall; and a bigger nursery. Interestingly, the staff use a measure used by church professionals to assess healthy and growing congregations and they have a different idea of what is important. Their list is topped by seating capacity, parking, and washrooms. Quite a difference!
Many of you are open to the idea of a move. Only 23% of you told us that it was very important that First stays at this location. 48% thought it was very important to stay within 5 kilometers of this site. 60% mentioned the importance of access by TTC.
It has also become clear that, while many of you are open to change, for some people this building will always be “good enough”. The Task Force has concluded that living with a “good enough” building is not an option. Here is why:
- We are operating at capacity now. We are crowded everywhere: Sunderland Hall is full most Sundays. Coffee hour is congested and noisy. The classrooms are too small for the way we teach children now. The nursery is at capacity. We do not have enough office space for the staff, let alone to support the work of the chaplains and lay pastoral care. Our washrooms are too few and too cramped. We have only one accessible washroom and no children’s washroom. We have only three parking spaces and nearby off-street parking has dwindled in recent years.
- Staff and volunteers are operating under stress to provide the excellent services and programs we all enjoy. There is a high level of frustration with inadequate storage space, noise and space restrictions caused by tenants, a lack of privacy and security created by the layout, and the need to continually set up and reset rooms for different purposes. There is a longing for more inspiring spaces, good acoustics, and opportunities to try new things, such as video projection.
- We have an older building. It has already been added onto twice, creating unsatisfactory heating and cooling, an awkward layout. It is not in good shape: we have un-insulated walls and windows, a leaky roof, and high maintenance costs. We have to address the major deficiencies you identified: accessibility, the kitchen the heating and cooling systems, acoustics, and the space for our children. We have to address the features that make a healthy and growing congregation (seating, parking, washrooms).
- Accessibility is a huge problem and becoming worse as our congregation ages. We have several members who are unable to come any more because they can’t deal with the stairs and the lift. Any renovation of this building will require that we bring the building up to code, which will be very costly.
An Interesting Dilemma
Unlike many other denominations, we are growing.
Some of you have suggested that the solution to dealing with growth is to have two services on Sundays. This is not an ideal solution. It is hard on both staff and volunteers and puts stresses on the congregation. However, it is something we may have to consider as a short-term solution. Some of you think that things are OK for now, that we can manage and that renovations can wait. The Task Force respectfully disagrees with this approach. We have concluded that doing nothing, or making only cosmetic changes is not an option, because that would stifle our growth and vitality, and hamper us from becoming all we could be:
- a vital force for liberal religion in Toronto
- a congregation more aligned to the economic and social realities of our city
- a congregation that incorporates more outreach and inclusivity
- a congregation that incorporates more environmental and social responsibility into our ministry.
If we want to be a thriving congregation with a future, we must act. We either have to rebuild this building or sell it and seek a new home elsewhere.
The Financial Reality
We don’t have any money to rebuild this building and waiting 10 years is not going to make a difference. We could fundraise from the congregation. We could take out a mortgage. We have no governing body above us that is going to fund this. We are on our own.
If we sell our building, we will have the capital to purchase property elsewhere and build on it or renovate an existing building. We will have the opportunity to get the building of our dreams. Our building (or rather the land it sits on) is our biggest capital asset. If we procrastinate and other development grows up around us, our land will lose value because developers will have less freedom to build and build higher.
It is a difficult decision to come to terms with. It is a crucial time in our life together as a congregation.
Our plan to Proceed
With all this in mind, we are engaging the Toronto firm of Tafler Rylett Architects to do a feasibility study for us. They are the architects who designed the expansion at the Mississauga Unitarian Congregation and they are Unitarians themselves. They will take the input you have provided and calculate our space needs.
They will assess what critical changes could be accomplished at this site and give us some scenarios of what we might do if we sold and moved to another site.
We will bring these options, along with their costs, back to you by September.
You will have many more opportunities to comment and discuss in the coming months before you are asked to vote on how to proceed. Let me stress that no decisions have been made. The final decision will be by a vote of the membership.
Let us go forward into this with hope and respect for one another.
We will never all be in agreement – we are Unitarians after all. But may we come through this feeling that the process has been fair, that we have been heard, and that we can live with whatever outcome the congregation votes for.
I leave you with a reminder about the hopes that you identified at the first Congregational Conversation back in September.
- You hoped that we would have new facilities that will serve us in all we want to do now and into the future.
- You hoped that a new building would enable us to strengthen the image of Unitarians in Toronto.
- And you hoped that going through the process and working toward a decision together would make us a stronger congregation.
Chair of the Building for the Future Task Force