By M.L. Dehm The Herald Business Journal
EVERETT — The new owners of the old National Guard Armory on Oakes Avenue enjoyed a thorough inspection of the property at an open house recently as Mars Hill Church opened the historic three-story, 46,000-square foot building to a public tour.
Lead pastor Ryan Williams is impressed at how well the existing military space lends itself to a religious remodel.
“One of the things that we joke about is that this building was built in 1921 and, in 1921, God knew this would be a church in 2013,” Williams said. “Although I’m sure that wasn’t in the mind of the architect or the builders.”
The 11,000-square-foot former gymnasium and drill floor is destined to become the body of the church, while the classrooms and offices will need little alteration to serve nearly 800 adults and children who are likely to attend services once it is refurbished later this year.
Mars Hill Church is a large organization with a presence in four states, mostly in densely populated urban areas. Last year, its property and development team became aware of the Everett Armory, which was vacated by the National Guard in 2011.
“The opportunity came up for us to get it,” Williams said. “We had been looking for a place in the heart of downtown Everett. We’re a church who believes that we are in a city to bless and love that city.”
The property was ultimately purchased for $1.2 million not long after Mars Hill Church purchased the 104-year-old First Congregational Church building in Tacoma for about $1.9 million. The organization is not shy about handling restorations of historic properties.
“We want to keep as much of the history of this building as we can,” Williams said. “The beauty of this is that the electricity, the plumbing and the structure are all really good.”
Although the armory sat vacant for some time, there was no apparent lasting damage from that neglect. The building has asbestos and lead paint issues that typify structures of its age, but abatement processes during renovation mean these will not be an issue to churchgoers once renovations are complete.
“Our struggles are going to be with the sheer size of the building and turning it into a church,” Williams said. “It’s such a large, large space that costs just go through the roof.”
The cost of carpeting, paint and lighting for the main church area alone is expected to be enormous. Another necessary big-ticket item for the church is installation of women’s restrooms in a facility where most of the existing restroom facilities are utilitarian and intended for men.
“Being an armory, they didn’t have a lot of women here. So we’re going to create a really nice women’s bathroom,” Williams said.
He estimates it will cost about $750,000 to renovate the Everett building to a workable standard that will allow the congregation to move from their current location in the Everett Community College fitness center into the new building. Efforts are underway to raise that sum even as some of the renovation work goes ahead.
Lesser renovations that are planned for the armory this summer and fall include completing a space on the mezzanine level that overlooks the main auditorium for parents with infants or for use as a green room. There will be a children’s ministry area as well as separate spaces for older children and teens.
“We’re a church with a lot of kids — a young family church,” Williams said.
Other spaces to be renovated in the near future include a conference room and counseling rooms. Basement rooms are destined to become classrooms at a later date. The old ammunition vaults will create added storage space once their large steel doors are removed.
The offices, including the pastor’s office, are low on the improvement list but Williams doesn’t mind. The space that will become his office looks out on the Cascades and he appreciates the views of the mountains and downtown Everett.
Williams said Mars Hill’s purchase of the armory has gone smoothly and he believes that the city of Everett is pleased to see the building revitalized.
“The city was really amazing to work with,” he said. “They’ve been super helpful.”
The congregation intends to pay back the community with ministry work and by being good neighbors. To start, they’ve made arrangements with nearby Trinity Lutheran College to use its parking garage instead of taking often scarce street parking.
The next time the public is invited into the old armory, Mars Hill will be open for services. Williams hopes locals will stop by when that happens to see the church and learn what his congregation is all about.
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