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Brechin United Church in Nanaimo undergoes new development

Kathy Torhjelm, left, and Melba Harding examine a model of Brechin United Church
Kathy Torhjelm, left, and Melba Harding examine a model of Brechin United Church's redevelopment plan during an open house at the church on Monday (March 6). Brechin plans to demolish their current place of worship and construct a five-storey apartment building as well as a smaller church space.
— image credit: Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN

The times are changing and so is one church in central Nanaimo.

Brechin United Church, located on 1998 Estevan Rd., has unveiled a bold redevelopment plan that will see its existing place of worship demolished and replaced with a five-storey apartment building and church.

A total of 36 units in the 6,536 square-metre building will be available for rent while an additional 38 units will be allocated for supportive housing. Approximately 700 square-metres in the new building will be church space.

Linda Braid, co-chairwoman of the Brechin United Church redevelopment committee, said the congregation decided to redevelop their property in an effort to cement its future in the community for years to come.

“We are losing people. Some of our people are aging,” Braid said. “We had to think of a way to stay here as Brechin United Church.”

Braid said discussions on a new direction for the church and the property at 1998 Estevan Rd. began more than five years ago, after the congregation realized that if it didn’t change the church would eventually fade out.

“We, first of all as a church, thought, let’s consider maybe amalgamating with another United church in the area,” she said. “We had meetings, but basically nothing came out of it. That’s when the congregation said, lets try to redevelop the area. We couldn’t simply come in and make changes to the church because there were so many things wrong with this church.”
Above: Artist rendering of Brechin United Church redevelopment project. The five-storey building is expected to be completed by 2020 and will replace the current church structure.

The redevelopment project is also unique in that Brechin United Church has teamed up with Brighouse United and Como Lake United, both located in Metro Vancouver. According to Braid, all three United churches will redevelop their properties under one large “redevelopment” project, which is supported by B.C. Housing and the United Church of British Columbia.

The new church will include a chapel and labyrinth, according to Braid, who said the new congregation space will not have church pews, but chairs instead.

“We are going to able to have chairs so that we can change the space around depending on the activity in our church. Right now the sanctuary isn’t used as regularly,” she said.

Demolition on the current church structure, which was built in the 1950s, will occur next year and the new building is expected to open in 2020. Braid said the congregation will be sad to see the old building go, but that the new structure will have some pieces of the old church.

“We are going to take some of this structure with us,” she said. “We’ve got some beautiful old wooden beams.”

Kathy Torhjelm, a member of the church since the 1970s, said she’s pleased with the direction Brechin United is taking and is impressed with the design.

“There will probably be more changes and that is great because we need to get input, but I am excited about actually having something that we can look at that is concrete.”

Melba Harding, a church member since 1967, said change is inevitable and she’s thrilled with the new design.

“This church used to be packed,” she said. “The church was always full for many many years. But times change. There are not as many people now and there are not as many children now. You have to accept it. You can have all your feelings and say all the things in the beginning but you know in the long run the most practical has to happen.”

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