When one student from Mount Royal Elementary School arrived in the newly renovated third floor of Fellowship Hall for her weekly tutoring session, she was filled with wonder. Eyeing the bright green carpet where she and other students sat in a circle and the beams of sunlight that streamed through the new windows she exclaimed, “It feels like a picnic!”
Another Mount Royal student, a fourth-grader, was so taken with the new space that he announced that someday—when he had money—he was going to buy the place.
Such expressions of praise and appreciation were commonly heard, if variously expressed, recently as the 84 students and 72 tutors in the Brown Memorial Tutoring Program became acquainted with their renovated space.
The remodeling of the tutoring space was part of a two-year, $1.4 million modernization project undertaken by the Brown Memorial congregation and completed Christmas Eve. In addition to refurbishing the tutoring space, improvements were made on the first and second floors of the church’s Fellowship Building, on the South tower of the church and on the historic Skinner organ. Goals of the renovation, according to Senior Pastor Andrew Foster Connors, were to “make our spaces fully accessible to our growing congregation, to improve safety and to make our environmental footprint a little lighter.”
Betsy Nix, co-chair of the church’s construction committee, observed that “renovating an historic structure is an exercise in sustainability. In addition, we worked to repurpose items whenever we could.” For instance , she noted, when the contractors found a pocket door hidden in a kitchen wall, they used it as decoration in another part of the building.
Martha Socolar, director of the tutoring program, said she was grateful “that the church very generously included the tutoring program in the renovation plans.”
For tutors, the biggest plus of the makeover is that the building now has an elevator, Socolar said.
“Every year we would lose tutors who could no longer climb the three flights of stairs,” Socolar said. Now, she said, tutors with troubled legs can ride the elevator to and from their third-floor sessions.
Frank Dittenhafer II, the architect of the project, noted in a post on his firm’s website that putting elevators in old buildings is one of its “specialties.” “We have considerable experience inserting elevators in older, historic buildings,” he wrote. “It takes some real care so that it’s done without compromising the historic integrity of significant components. Fortunately we were able to help.” Dittenhafer’s firm worked with A. R. Marani General Contractors on the project.
Other welcome improvements in the tutoring space, Socolar said, are new desks, shelves, chairs and office furnishings secured by a $19,000 grant from the France-Merrick Foundation. The new furniture, coupled with smart design—heat for instance now comes from vents tucked in the ceiling instead of old noisy radiators—make for a more pleasant and efficient learning environment, she said.
“The new space allows our students, many of whom have attention problems, to have more freedom to move about. They can walk over and use the white boards that are on the walls in the tutoring rooms, or they can sit on pillows with their tutors in the window sills and read books. There is much less rigidity than we had before,” Socolar said.
The move into the revamped space comes after the tutoring program spent the past months working out of the top floor of the Church House. There space was tight and occupants of the other offices in the building tolerated the twice a day migration of students going up and down the structure’s wooden steps. Initially some of the Church House workers were concerned that the parade of children would be disruptive, Pastor Connors said. But they grew to like it, he said, and now miss the sound of children’s laughter.