Nearly six months after fire, Walker Church submits plans for rebuild [IMAGES]

Categories: Minneapolis
Kass Wilson Architects, courtesy Walker Church
The proposed new Walker Church, from across the intersection at 31st St. and 16th Ave. S.
The Walker Community United Methodist Church submitted plans for a new building yesterday, just in time.

When the church building -- community hub, activist meeting space, and home of a more than 125-year history -- burned down on May 27, it had 180 days to turn in plans for a re-build, in order to keep its zoning.

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Yesterday was day 178. Around 2:30 in the afternoon, hundreds of pages in plans for the proposed re-build finished printing, and the Walker Church team rush them over to city Development Review to submit.

The plans have been in the works since late summer. In the first weeks after the fire, "We were getting through all the stuff that had to get done," says Rev. Walter Lockhart. "By August, we started looking at what we were going to build."

The church hired local architects Kass Wilson, and according to Lockhart, has been working with a basic design for about six weeks.

Though some in the community have been disappointed by the straightforward appearance of the new proposal, Lockhart describes the building's next incarnation as a "much more open and welcoming space." He ticks off improvements: increased accessibility, a second story fellowship hall with views of the city (the old one was in the basement), and a new, additional meeting space for neighborhood non-profits.

The main sanctuary will still have a stage along one side, so that it can do double-duty as a theater, and the building will also boast a commercial kitchen, so the church can get the right permits for the kind of hot meals it was previously serving under the radar. "We won't have to avoid the city inspectors anymore," says Lockhart.

"This will be a building designed to do the ministry we do," says Lockhart, "for reaching out to the neighborhood and being a meeting place for progressive causes changing the world."

The Walker Church is currently fundraising with a 10 to 1 match, and working toward a $100,000 goal. "We are on target to do that," according to Lockhart, "but there is still work to be done."

He hopes the new building will be operational by Christmas 2013. In the interim, the Walker is hosting Sunday celebrations at Patrick's Cabaret, just a mile down the road.

The cause of the fire that gutted the original building remains a mystery. Though best guesses point to lightning, some, including at least one head of a non-profit that was based there, think the fire could have been intentionally set to destroy sensitive material housed in the church.

One firefighter was badly burned, and the city demolished what was left of the building the day after the blaze, citing the unstable shell as a hazard.

Click over to page two for more renderings of the new church.

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