Changes at St. Luke’s

SARANAC LAKE – The village’s oldest church is about to undergo a major renovation.

Work began this week on more than $500,000 worth of accessibility upgrades at the Church of St. Luke the Beloved Physician, located at the corner of Main and Church streets.

When it’s complete, church officials say the project will make the property more accessible to churchgoers who have difficulty getting around. They also say the work will benefit the greater community, since the church’s buildings are used for various nonprofit and charity programs and meetings, and during community events like the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival and First Night.

“Handicapped access is, from my perspective, one of the most important steps to full inclusivity,” said the Rev. Ann Gaillard, rector of the church. “In as many areas St. Luke’s can identify, we endeavor to be an inclusive church, and inclusivity means access for all, whether it’s a physical disability or in any other capacity.”

Gaillard said this is one of the biggest projects in the history of St. Luke’s, which was built in 1879 and is Saranac Lake’s first church.

The most noticeable change will be the construction of an enclosed, handicapped accessible connector that will link the church building to the neighboring Baldwin House. The Baldwin House is used by the church and other groups and organizations, including Adirondack Habitat for Humanity, the Quakers and Alcoholics Anonymous, for office and meeting space.

The connector will stretch across what is now a driveway that leads to the back of the church and its Parish Hall, so a new driveway will be built on the south side of the Baldwin House. A crew from Treebusters of Tupper Lake removed several tall trees on the site of the new driveway on Wednesday. New landscaping and trees will be added along the Main Street side of the new addition, to replace what’s being removed, and new parking will be created behind the connector.

The project also involves construction of new Sunday school classrooms, offices and meeting spaces for the church; a handicapped-accessible restroom serving both the church and the Baldwin House; and a lift that will improve access between the church and the Parish Hall.

“It’s very necessary,” said Ron Harris, a church trustee who’s serving as clerk of the works on the project. “Right now, the only handicapped access between the church and the Parish Hall is for people to go outside and walk up the driveway. You can imagine what it’s like in the winter time with the ice and snow.”

Harris estimated that more than a dozen of the church’s regular members have various mobility impairments – and use canes, walkers or wheelchairs – and would benefit directly from the upgrades.

“Saranac Lake is also an aging demographic,” Gaillard added. “In the six-and-half years I’ve been here, the whole aging-in-place concept has become such an important thing in Saranac Lake. We’ve also become more aware of the needs of veterans who’ve returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, a number of whom are disabled and can benefit from this. It’s older folks, but it’s also younger folks.”

Church leaders say the additional meeting space and accessibility upgrades aren’t just a benefit for parishioners.

“We’ve tried to keep in mind the fact that this was the first church in Saranac Lake and that its founders, including (Dr. Edward Livingston) Trudeau, were very, very civic-minded, and this church was very integral to the community in many ways,” Gaillard said. “I mean, the Parish Hall (built in 1891) was the village’s first public library. Now the Community Lunch Box is here twice a week. One of the first Winter Carnival events is the traditional worship service, which occurs at St. Luke’s. We’re trying to be very mindful of our connection to the community.”

“That’s our mission,” Harris said. “We’re not here just for the people kneeling in the pews on Sunday.”

These upgrades are something the church has been milling over for about eight years, Harris said. Originally, separate projects were planned for each building. Then church officials started working with Plattsburgh architect John McKenna, who came up with the original concept of integrating the upgrades into one project. After McKenna died last year, AES Northeast in Plattsburgh took on the project and modified McKenna’s original plan.

Fundraising began more than a year ago and wrapped up in January. The church’s capital campaign was funded almost entirely by parishioners, Harris said.

“The parish really came through big time,” Gaillard said. “We had a wonderful response.”

The project was recently put out to bid, and the contract was awarded to Rabideau Corporation, the construction company run by village Mayor Clyde Rabideau.

Groundbreaking on the project took place this week. Construction is expected to be complete in early December.