Miracle on Halifax Drive


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It wasn’t the intention of the committee to build a building.  The Sign Committee’s task was to investigate the possibility of replacing the deteriorating wayside pulpit with something that would tastefully attract attention to the weekly postings of UUA thought-provoking messages, Sunday service topics, and coming events.  And the committee did investigate. 

The handmade wayside pulpit was installed soon after the building was completed in early 1960.  By 1998 when the committee investigated getting a new sign, Ormond Beach had upgraded and changed its codes and regulations.  After determining projected costs new regulations would require, committee members suggested to Chair Wanda Cassidy that so much money for a bright new sign outside the aging building could be better spent elsewhere. 

Surveying the building outside they saw areas that needed attention, yet again.  They went through the rooms and admitted the kitchen (enlarged in 1978) had become cramped when preparing for dinners for a congregation that had grown, the small bathrooms were well-used and not handicapped or wheelchair-accessible, the carpet in the library/cyber learning center/meeting room was frayed, and cabinets throughout were worn and needed attention.  But even more worrisome, the water heater and furnace in the area beneath the building became flooded in heavy rain.  The area drew mold and always smelled dank. 

The Board and then the congregation were informed of the committee’s concern and findings.  Those in the congregation who engaged in tasks that took them to every nook and cranny of the building pointed out even more places needing attention.  The Sign Committee became the Building Renovation Committee with Bill Ternent as Chair and with the same members:  Wanda Cassidy, Marilou McKemie, Ruth Konz, George Jackson, Betty Green and Pat Maden.  The committee was told to investigate renovation and to report back; and it did.

Constructed in 1959-1960, the building also no longer met new regulations and codes.  Inside and out it was not handicapped-accessible and modifications could not make it so.  The small classrooms did not meet new occupancy fire codes nor did the kitchen. The windows and roof didn’t meet new hurricane standards.  The building had passed its prime.  Simple cosmetic changes would not solve the problem. 

Getting a new sign seemed a way to symbolize they were actively looking forward to a positive future.  For the past year or so they had experienced a good deal of unsettling change.  Due to differences in how to deal with a growing congregation’s needs, early in 1997 a group of 30 members (25 pledging units) left to form a new congregation, among them the Religious Education Director and most of the younger members with children.  Those remaining were mostly retired and elderly.  Instead of folding -- as some who left had predicted -- the remaining were actively considering and planning positive options for the future.  Directions they might take were not clear or easy; there were numerous challenges and, as is typical of UUs, there were many strongly felt ideas of how to meet each of them.

Among the remaining members’ challenges was Reverend Ron Mazur’s retirement in late 1997.  Agreeing they weren’t ready for a settled minister, they hired Rev. Dewey Wells as an interim minister for the balance of the fiscal year starting in January and continuing through May.  During his stay they searched for another interim minister.  Arriving in September 1998, Interim Minister Rev. Edward Brock served until June 1999.  At that time interim ministers contracted for only one “year,” September through May.  (A “year” was actually eight or nine months, as ministers were expected to have the summer off for study and rejuvenation.)  With the help of the two interim ministers, the congregation felt ready for a settled minister.  When Rev. Brock left, the Ministerial Search Committee was still investigating and interviewing potential settled ministers.  The committee included President Bill Maden, Larry Downing, Marilou McKemie, Betty Green, Reinhold Schlieper, Al Frazer and Chair Jan Ternent.      

To be current with changing thoughts and new members’ ideas, a Listening Committee (Chair Pat Maden, Larry Downing and Jan Ternent) surveyed members in person or by phone on their desires for a minister, the future of the Society, and building.  Ideas were reported.  Other groups discussed concerns about the old building and expressed ideas for a new building. 

Many in the congregation were fond of the old building.  Herbert Davidson, the Society’s founder and publisher of The News-Journal, had attended services and events there.  The building was lovingly cared for by members.  Some of the many improvements were: 

  • Painting the building inside and out,
  • Installing new double front doors with stained glass windows depicting the chalice,
  • Carpeting and redecorating the main meeting room where Sunday services were held,
  • Installing air conditioning so the building could be used more comfortably in hot weather,
  • Adding a second stove,
  • Making needed repairs,
  • Expanding the parking lot, 
  • Tending to the grounds and dune. 

The main meeting room where services were held was bathed in light from high windows on the south side.  Below them, changed monthly, were paintings by members and friends.  On the opposite side, sliding glass doors provided more light and a view of the deck and natural foliage beyond.  Lightly stained wood post and beam construction with sturdy beams beneath a wood ceiling provided charm and the impression of permanence.  The room was comfortable.  The building was familiar.  It held fond memories.  It was home. 

After many meetings (both small and at the congregational level) with lengthy and often heated discourse, the majority reluctantly admitted a new building was needed.  A few years earlier a Board had recognized a new building would be required at some time in the future and established a building fund.  A total of $75,750 had been raised.  At a congregational meeting a substantial majority of members voted to build a $550,000 building, with the stipulation there be no mortgage.  Those who insisted on no mortgage fervently argued it was difficult to get pledges each year to support a minister and staff - with a mortgage it would be even harder. 

Al Fraser was asked to Chair the Building Fund Drive Committee.   Its first task was to determine the possibility of building without a mortgage.  Since renovation was now not an option, the Building Renovation Committee became the Building Committee

Many meetings continued for people to express their desires for the new building.  Finally a summary of what people wanted was distributed and names of architects were submitted. 

During this time a representative at National UUA was contacted for advice.  He told the caller it was unheard of for only 84 pledging units to build a $550,000 building without a mortgage, especially since not all of them would be able to donate and there were no super-wealthy benefactors. A Growth Committee was formed to investigate ways of increasing membership.

In the fall of 1999 the Rev. Doctor Kristen Harper, newly graduated from Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, became the settled minister bringing energy, enthusiasm, support of a new building, and willingness to serve in the pulpit year-round.  She was also the first female and first Black person to serve as minister to this congregation.

Serving with Chair Al Fraser on the Building Fund Drive Committee were Natalie Dix Williamson, John King, and Dick Eberle.  Phil Elliott, who vigorously opposed constructing a new building agreed to be on the committee after the congregation voted to build and no one worked harder in raising the needed money.  Jan Ternent offered to serve on the committee because a few years earlier she’d attended Indiana University’s Fund-Raising School.  At the first meeting only Natalie was certain they could raise the estimated $550,000.  Most agreed with the UUA representative’s opinion but were definitely willing to investigate.  Jan said if they followed the fund-raising school’s detailed instructions for completing a successful capital fund drive, they would soon learn if building without a mortgage was feasible. 

To get ideas for presenting a compelling case to the congregation, should it become feasible to build, they requested reports from the Listening, Growth and other committees of members’ reasons for building or not.  While this was underway, the Building Fund Drive Committee undertook the first task required by the fund-raising school.  Instructions were clear that for a campaign to be successful, 10% of the pledging units must be willing to pledge 60% of the $500,000.  They drew up a list of potential names.  Two were out of town, so phone calls were made to them; the others were met in their homes by teams of two.   Pledges could be paid over three years.  Committee members also wrote on slips of paper what they thought the others on the committee could pledge.  There were gasps when amounts were read. 

Dick Weiss pledged $50,000 to the fund if the classroom wing would have a plaque naming it the “Troobie Learning Center” as a memorial to his beloved deceased wife who had been a committed teacher.  The building fund now had a starting base of $125,750.  By the next meeting pledges indicated the needed 60% could be expected. 

Joy of joys, they had a go!  The congregation could build without a mortgage, although a bridge loan would be required to cover construction costs until all pledges were paid.  At its April 16, 2000 meeting, the congregation voted to commence with building.  The Building Committee and the Building Fund Drive Committee had much work to do before the official Building Fund Drive Kickoff on September 10, 2000.  Kristen Harper devoted her sermon to the fund drive followed by committee members speaking to the status of the building, the monetary goal, money already raised, a bridge loan to spread pledges over three years, and the procedure for canvasing members.

Training sessions for volunteer canvassers began at different times and days of the week preparing teams of two to contact every pledging unit, in person, in their homes conducted by Jan Ternent based on information from the Fund Raising School. 

During the two weeks it took to train the 25 volunteers, the Building Fund Drive Committee, in pairs, continued to canvass members.  By the time the volunteers were ready to canvass, $388,068 had been raised with $161, 932 needed to meet the $550,000 goal.   A large cardboard thermometer was constructed at the front of the main meeting room; and each day a new pledge came in, the progress was marked.  This small congregation, committed to a UU presence in the Daytona Beach area, donated stock and dividends, took from savings and insurance policies, sold vehicles and treasures, and pledged $5,000 more than was asked for.    

The Building Committee had been considering the critical issue of where and how many buildings should be built.  If not on the current footprint, where?

  • Disturbing the new, expanded parking lot on the south was forbidden. 
  • Society environmentalists were adamant that the building not encroach on the natural dune and oak hammock. 
  • Because of neighboring residential areas, there was a 100 foot setback at the north and west property lines if the building held a school or sanctuary-type meeting room. 
  • George Jackson insisted on a separate building for Sunday school and the day care center then using classroom space on weekdays and run by the Junior League primarily for a small number of League children.  The Building Committee considered ways to build a large enough main building as well as a smaller one for offices and classrooms that would not encroach on the hammock.  City code required that the smaller building could not be attached to the larger one and must have 40 feet between them.  Also the smaller building required the duplicated expense of handicapped-accessible restrooms.  Further a small kitchen would be required for snacks and/or meals for the children.    
  • After many meetings with committee members and interested others, all providing diverse ideas, it was decided it was not fiscally responsible or practical to build a second smaller building.  Instead the committee decided to build over and beyond the current footprint with a single extension to the north for the main meeting room.    

Extensive time commitments of the Building Committee and involvement elsewhere and in the Society brought about resignations from four of its members.  However, joining original members Chair Bill Ternent, Marilou McKemie, and Ruth Konz, and working diligently until the completion of the project, were Carol Phillips, Ed Flanagan and Arthur Brenner.   

Among the architects the committee contacted was one who was noted for building innovative all wood, ecologically sound buildings.  His design suggestions and estimates were much too costly.  Another architect designed an exciting modern building with a tall spire to symbolize UU striving for truth and meaning.  It was also much too expensive.  Then architect, Ben Butera, submitted a practical design much closer to the $555,000 than the others.  With each architectural design the committee together and with small groups of interested congregants pored over the floor plans, raised objections, praised aspects, and compared them with the “Summary of Facility Needs.”  Butera considered the list and noted the project would need a builder who was noted for economically constructing structurally sound buildings.  He suggested ways a builder could stay within budget.  By a 3-2 vote of the Building Committee, Butera was recommended to be the architect.

After submissions of over-budget estimates by various contractors, Bryan Collyer of Strasser Construction submitted an estimate within budget and was selected to be the builder on a cost plus basis.  One possible saving would be getting a renovation permit instead of a building permit by using the existing foundation, slab, and east and west concrete block walls for the new building.  Chair Bill Ternent, Ben Butera, and Bryan Collyer worked diligently to make controlled-cost arrangements and came up with a design of a sturdy, pleasing concrete-block structure that met the most wanted and basic needs, would blend well with façade improvements occurring on buildings along Granada, and could be built for $555,000.  The congregation voted to go ahead with Butera and Collyer. 

The surveyor informed them that part of the east wall was some four inches over the setback.  Weeks were lost until the city granted a variance for the existing wall and any extension to it.  During this time contents of the building were inspected by members and marked for storage or disposal.  A moving company took the baby grand piano to Phil Elliott’s home and the rest into storage.  Ed Derks, the custodian, helped with the move and reported to Carol Phillips throughout the building process. Derks kept an eye on the workmen, maintained the playground and dune, and, as he’d done in the old building, did the Sunday set-up at the meeting room the congregation contracted to use during construction.

Sunday, December 16, 2001 the first services were conducted at the Schnebly Recreation Center in Daytona Beach.  The Center had ample parking; a small warming kitchen, a more-than-adequate sized meeting room with folding chairs, lectern, and an old piano in much need of tuning.  People wandered in from the street to deposit coins in a soft drink machine in full view of the meeting room.  Minister Kristen Harper took the disruptive clatter in stride with good humor.  It didn’t  take long for volunteers to rotate sitting in the separate entrance room with the front door locked as some who came demanding entrance were not easily or quietly sent on their way.  Carol Belden, the pianist, winced in dismay at some of the sounds the piano emitted but continued playing knowing, as did the minister, it was a temporary inconvenience. 

One morning a member entered the restroom to find a naked lady bathing.  Not having her own home she bathed at the Center.  She was persuaded to bathe at a different time.  Another Sunday the congregation was locked out of the Center.  They conferred and while some pulled folding chairs from cars, those living closest went home to get more.  In no time they were set up and ready to conduct the service in the parking lot.  Some sat in the sun on chairs while others sat in strategically placed cars, others simply stood.  Except for that Sunday, after the service there was only a short time for coffee, conversation, and cleanup as another group was scheduled.  Members held together and supported one another with humor, patience and warmth.  Even in this unsettled atmosphere new people joined the congregation.

On January 21, 2002 demolition began with only two walls, two outside concrete walkways, foundation, and slab remaining of the building.  After inspecting the existing concrete block walls, Collyer from Strasser Construction said they would not meet current codes and that Ormond Beach inspectors would not allow them to be part of the new building.  He immediately took them down, saying they were a hazard.  Now permitting was needed for a new building.  More time was lost and cost added.

Many felt a punch to their midsections when the two walls disappeared.  For weeks afterward it seemed as if nothing happened.  Some said they couldn’t drive by without shedding tears.  Yet they remained positive and loyally attended services.  Each Sunday what had occurred during the week was reported so members knew their Building Committee was spending long hours on the project, usually daily, with the Chair often called back to the site (a 50-mile round trip), after he thought his work was finished for the day.   

Minister Kristen Harper worked out of her apartment and met with people in their homes.  Marie Campbell, the administrative secretary, also worked out of her home and welcomed volunteers.  Meetings were conducted wherever space could be found.  The Board met regularly as did committees.  Using a form Ed Flanagan devised to track incoming and outgoing money, Carol Phillips submitted a statement to the board each month.  Phil Elliott continued to lead the Discussion Group before services, the usual bulletin was available each Sunday, Betty Green published the Jotter and first Friday night pot-lucks continued at the Schnebly Center. 

Standing committees with Board membership continued to meet: Caring, Program, Social Justice, Alliance, Finance, Publicity, Religious Education, Membership and Denominational Affairs.  Also special committees met: Growth, Ministerial Relations, New Building, Grounds, Building Fund Drive and Nominating.  The congregation continued its community activities including Family Renew and joining in the organizing of F.A.I.T.H.  (Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony).  Bob Blume’s Black-White Dialogue continued to meet as well as monthly interracial dining and conversation at different restaurants around town. The disruption of building didn’t deter them -- if anything they became stronger and even more committed to each other and to living Unitarian Universalism’s Seven Principles.

Collyer was amused to learn (as did Charley Barcelo a past member of the Society and builder of the original building) that for years refuse (hard trash such as wood and metal) from the old Ormond Hotel had been deposited on the original building site and covered over with sand.  To provide a solid base, on a scheduled basis, Charley covered over the sand with fill and left hoses running overnight to help pack down empty spaces so that a firm slab could be poured.  Sometimes well-meaning passers-by noticed the running water and turned it off, thinking they were helping.   

Mid-May of 2002 a new foundation was poured alongside the original.  Walkways along the north and south walls of the old building were reinforced beneath with concrete added on top, giving the new building greater width for the length of the building, thereby adding more interior floor space in the kitchen, bathrooms, classrooms, and offices.  The empty space that had once housed the furnace and water heater was left so that plumbing could be accessed and land around it was graded, eliminating the previous occasional flooding.  Unfortunately two trees were removed as a large amount of fill was required to extend the main meeting room that would be used for Sunday services, dinners, and other large gatherings.  Once the final slab was ready, by mid-July walls went up, seemingly rapidly after months of a visually barren site.  After workers left, members walked through the construction, marveling at the space as walls went up.  By mid-August the roof was nearly in place.  On the day it became a true building with locked doors, they then sat in cars in the parking lot or stood, often forming small groups, to gaze at and comment on the wonder their determination and commitment had brought about. 

In April Rev. Kristen Harper was offered a position as full-time minister in Barnstable MA near her home territory at a salary she couldn’t refuse.  Her employment with the UU Society would officially end on August 31, 2002.  While a new Ministerial Search Committee was being formed, Bev Frazer and Jan Ternent adapted a UUA questionnaire for members to take to express their personal beliefs and expectations of a minister. 

Bonnie Bostrom chaired the new Search Committee:  Ann Awdey, Martin Feigenbaum, Al Frazer, Roger Patterson and Carol Phillips.  The committee immediately began the process with the UUA to find a new settled minister.

The construction of the building continued but problems developed.  Among them:

  • Air handlers for the kitchen and bathrooms along with unsightly exhaust fans were installed on the south roof slope where they could be seen from the street instead of on the north roof slope where they wouldn’t be seen.  After repeated insistence by the committee and builder that they be relocated, they were. 
  • The fire inspector and other inspectors couldn’t agree on the maximum number of people the building could hold.  The fewest number was finally agreed upon (253).  Once the building was completed, prominent posting of a sign noting maximum occupancy was required at all times. 
  • It was intended that the raised platform at the north end of the main meeting room would be wheelchair-accessible but inspectors insisted the ramp be so long and wide that too much seating would be permanently lost.  It was decided that a temporary ramp could be used when needed.    
  • One inspector demanded that a commercial-level hood and fan be installed in the kitchen, even though the kitchen was never intended or likely to be used for commercial purposes.  Another increased cost. 

Frugality was the rule wherever possible.  A few of the cost savings:  metal studs where feasible, simple window treatments, lower-cost commercial carpeting, keeping the old chairs.  Even with great care to get the most for the money; unexpected expenses were becoming substantial and by mid-September 2002 it was obvious the building was going to cost more than the projected $555,000.   There was no thought of abandoning the project.  Walls were up and undercoated, the roof was on, windows were installed; it was already becoming home.

A second campaign for $100,000 was proposed by the Building Fund Drive Committee.  If the congregation couldn’t pledge, a mortgage would be necessary.  An extension for payment of these pledges was set at two years beyond the original three.  The request was not a surprise; the Board and congregation had been kept current.  Some opposed asking again for money, preferred getting a mortgage, and voted against a second fund drive.  But a slim majority approved the second campaign; and as before, the congregation dug deep and with some cash now available in unrestricted funds, met their goal.  Monthly bridge-loan payments of roughly $150 (which decreased as the loan was paid down) were met from the budget. 

As was usual, during this time members and friends came and left.  For this report only those who pledged were counted.  There were 84 pledging units which included the Alliance and an anonymous donor.  Eight units provided 66% of the total.  Altogether 114 individuals donated, including two previous ministers, current members, past members, new members, and friends.  The highest pledge was $88,465; the lowest was $25.  Every pledge was appreciated. 

Of those who pledged, four died before the building was occupied; and by mid-2013, 48 were deceased, 34 had moved or stopped attending, and 32 individuals were still attending.  They pledged because they believed the Society must always be in the Daytona Beach area where open dialogue is encouraged; where differences are respected; and religious, local, and worldwide issues could be voiced without condemnation.  They believed that a building built to the stricter new codes would provide a safe haven for these things to happen for many years.  They dug deep, even though some knew they might not be around to spend much time in the new building.  They dug deep because they believed that those who would follow would stay true to Unitarian Universalist principles. 

With anticipation the congregation watched the progress of a sturdy, air-conditioned and heated building that met new hurricane standards.  A ramp at the west end of the building provided wheelchair access along a wood walkway to the minister’s office, deck, and main meeting room.  Sloped concrete provided wheelchair access to the main entrance.  The building provided a shower for teenage overnights, space and convenient access to water for janitorial services, and three handicapped-accessible bathrooms.  The much larger classrooms had built-in storage and large windows.   

Rev. Harper had requested that the minister’s office be located at the middle of the wing, have storage space and a wide view of the natural foliage.  All three requests were granted with an unrestricted view of the oak hammock provided by a glass door that opened onto the wood walkway.  The administrative secretary’s office also had storage and two entrances, one from the interior hall and the other from the parking lot.  A pull-down ladder in the ceiling of the largest classroom provided access to a plywood-floored attic with ample room for storage and a dry accessible area for the heating/air-conditioning system and water heater. The kitchen had an island, two stoves, two dishwashers, one refrigerator (another was soon donated), three sinks, counters, drawers, and twice the cupboard space.  Custodian Ed Derks installed wire shelves throughout and custom built heavy-duty wood shelves in the storage areas beside the stage in the main meeting room.  He also built a portable wheelchair ramp for the stage as well as a wood entrance from the deck onto the dune.

The main meeting room was more than doubled in size.  A computerized sound unit was built and installed midway along the east wall.  Ceiling wiring was installed for future overhead projection capabilities.  There was considerable storage front and back, a water fountain, and a counter with access to the kitchen for use during coffee after services and at other times.  Glass doors on the west wall provided access to the new deck and a view of the natural greenery beyond.  Commercial-grade carpeting was installed in all but the kitchen and bathrooms. 

Palm trees and shrubbery were planted along the east side and parking lot.  With Ed Derks and Carol Phillips overseeing, the moving company returned the prized piano, furnishings, and boxes to the new building along with the old stackable chairs for the meeting rooms.  With the help of eager hands, the marked boxes of supplies were placed in the offices, classrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, and main meeting room.  Many enthusiastically, with laughter and light-hearted camaraderie, helped unpack and organize.

The worn, dated, wayside pulpit was gone.  Replacing it was a large, rectangular, ground-level, combination sign/wayside pulpit that could be read from both backlighted sides with ample space for easy-to-read removable letters conveying the Society’s weekly messages. 

From the start individuals expressed their opinions, hopes, criticisms, wants and, as is typical of UUs, did so with conviction.  When a committee or congregational vote did not coincide with their point of view, they sighed, perhaps grumbled for a bit, but they accepted the majority decision and found a way to identify with and support the directions taken.  It took time to complete the project because it took time to listen to and seriously consider all ideas and concerns.  By providing opportunities to express differing views as major decisions were needed, individuals stayed engaged with the project.  Deep down they knew - that by working responsibly in the best interests of the entire community - together they could do what they had been told could not happen.

The untold hours of hard work and the extreme generosity of so many members who were truly committed to the ideals of the Unitarian Universalist faith enabled this Society to have a wonderful new home with no mortgage.  Nearly four years from the first Sign Committee meeting; one year and four months after the kick-off; and 11 months and 15 days after demolition began; on Sunday, January 5, 2003 the first service was held in the “Miracle on Halifax Drive.” 

 

Addendum:   

On November 14, 15, and 16, 2003 the congregation formally dedicated the building.  On the 14th the congregation celebrated, at a Friday night special dinner, 50 years since 35 members signed the original Unitarian Charter.  Natalie Dix Williamson was one of the signing members (and the only one of the signers who was still actively participating in 2003 – and as you may have noted also in 2013).  At the Saturday dedication soon-to-be part-time minister (December 1, 2003), Pastor Bud Murphy joined President Marilou McKemie in the Saturday welcoming and also provided reflective words.  At the Sunday service on the 16th, Tippen Davidson, son of Unitarian Universalist Society founder Herbert Davidson, provided the pulpit presentation with Bud Murphy serving as service leader.  

 

 

Reported by Jan Ternent with content, input, and editing from the following actively involved people who were still available:  

Building Committee: Chair Bill Ternent, Ed Flanagan, Marilou McKemie, Carol Phillips

Building Fund Drive Committee:  Phil Elliott, John King, Jan Ternent, Natalie Dix Williamson      

Building Custodian:  Ed Derks   

Also editing by Kathleen Casey and Judy Gordon with Judy providing other valued assistance   

 

Over the time this story and related activities were in process two contributors to the story died:  Custodian Ed Derks and Building Committee member Carol Phillips. 

(7-2013)