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Sissonville area church unveiling community center

craig cunningham/ daily mail
A second-floor meeting room at the Sissonville Multipurpose Community Center can be converted into a sleeping area for people with certain medical requirements in the event of an emergency.
The completion of the Sissonville Multipurpose Community Center allowed for the expansion of a food pantry that serves over 500 families. Sixteen churches and the federal government assist with the pantry.
A first-floor meeting room at the Sissonville Multipurpose Community Center can be converted into a sleeping area for people with certain medical requirements in the event of an emergency.
The gym floor at the Sissonville Multipurpose Community Center was reused from the Charleston Civic Center. The gym served as a sleeping area for residents after the June 2012 derecho.
Larry Slate, left, and Pat Taylor stand in the kitchen at the Sissonville Multipurpose Community Center on Wednesday. The kitchen is also used for the preparation of meals for older adults.

A Sissonville area church’s multipurpose center is proving to be a key fixture in that area of Kanawha County.

Aldersgate United Methodist Church has just finished its Sissonville Multipurpose Community Center, and is inviting the public to tour the building from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s an opportunity for people to come and see what facility is available here in Sissonville,” said Pat Taylor, a chief fundraiser for the center.

Construction wrapped up last month, although there are still a few finishing touches that need to be made.

Already, the new facility is getting a daily workout from the community, serving as space for a Putnam Aging nutrition center for senior lunches, a food pantry distribution point, a community clothing center that has prom dresses for high school girls, the location of extracurricular events for Sissonville High School; a Relay for Life location and a meeting space for Boy Scouts and the local Lions’ Club.

“It’s used seven days a week,” said Larry Slate, a co-project manager.

But what makes the center critical is its function as a shelter during area emergencies.

Just a month after the church completed the first phase of the center — the gym — Kanawha County was hit by the June 2012 derecho, which cut power to most county residents for days. That outage happened to fall in the middle of a major heat wave.

The church swiftly opened its doors and became a designated emergency shelter.

The shelter, which is powered by a large diesel generator, allowed area residents to charge mobile phones and medical equipment. It was also a place for people to get into air conditioning and out of the extreme heat.

Pets were also allowed to stay, though they were kept in a then-unfinished part of the building.

“(The generator) is why we were so successful following the derecho,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the derecho gave the church experience in emergency response.

“We learned a lot of lessons early on,” he said. “It was a blessing because we learned from that.”

After the derecho emergency came to a close, work continued on the shelter, but the lull wouldn’t last for long.

In October, Hurricane Sandy dumped a massive amount of snow on West Virginia. The unusual amount of snow proved too heavy for tree branches that still held leaves, and falling branches snapped power lines, cutting out power once again.

For the second time in four months, the shelter opened again.

And after Sandy, 2012 threw one more punch at the area with the Columbia Gas Transmission line explosion that destroyed homes and part of Interstate 77.

Once again, the center opened as an emergency shelter.

“In the first several months, the shelter was required,” Taylor said.

Even this year, the center has been used by local emergency officials.

After the Freedom Industries chemical leak and water contamination, Aldersgate served as a water distribution point for Sissonville.

“It has earned the respect of this community,” Taylor said.

The idea for the multipurpose center started several years ago when an Aldersgate congregation center came up with the idea to construct a basketball court or gym for area youth, Slate said.

From there, congregants took that idea and ran with it, getting planning help from Goldtown Community Church just up the road in Jackson County.

“Community leaders saw the need to have something in northern Kanawha County,” Taylor said. “The intent was it would be a multipurpose community center.”

Slate said one of the original names to call the building was the “Family Life Center,” a common name for similar spaces in other churches. However, he said, organizers wanted to give the new space a name that would reflect its intended purpose to the community.

Slate estimated the entire facility has cost about $1.4 million. The church took out an $800,000 loan to finance the exterior of the building, but thanks to donations — and a little creativity — the interior is paid in full.

For example, some appliances in the kitchen are assembled from surplus suppliers, like one dishwasher that was built out of parts from three old dishwashers.

Ceramic tile in the main hallway and in the bathrooms came from a building surplus supplier.

Even the gym floor is recycled. It used to serve the Charleston Civic Center until the church bought it at auction.

Slate said the church was originally going to use a vinyl floor for the 8,000-square-foot gym until the church learned of the Civic Center floor.

“We tried to reuse the floor the best way we could,” he said.

The floor still needed to be resurfaced; however, that problem wouldn’t be around long.

Just as the floor was being installed in 4-foot by 8-foot pieces, Slate was at Sissonville High School when he noticed a work crew resurfacing the school’s gym floor. He asked the contractor how much it would cost to do the work at the church and the contractor gave him a quote.

When the floor resurfacing project was brought to the congregation, “one of the church members said, ‘I’ll pay for that,’” Slate said.

Acts of generosity and circumstance like with the flooring were how the facility was built in just three and a half years instead of an estimated decade or more, Slate and Taylor said.

“It worked like that throughout the entire process,” Taylor said.

Initially, the center was to be built in three distinct phases — the gym, the bathrooms and kitchen and the second floor space.

But when the church applied for loans, it was able to secure the full $800,000 instead of a smaller amount that many had expected.

The full loan allowed more of the building to be constructed, which in turn allowed additional phases to be completed ahead of schedule, especially as donors continued to provide for interior work.

“If you do good, you find there are people willing to help you,” Taylor said.

Still, the church is working to pay off its loan for the exterior.

“We have constantly had some sort of fundraiser going on,” Taylor said.

The only other main work to be done is paving the parking lot near the center — a need that particularly became evident when the church was serving as a water distribution point.

Both Slate and Taylor said they believe God was at work in the construction of the center.

“There is absolutely no question,” Slate said. “I could tell you stories all day long.”

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