Pastor Marvin Cameron said the goal of the project is to show people that First Baptist is a place where you belong, where you will be loved and get to worship God beside other believers.
“We look forward to people seeing the changes as they happen and hope they'll come and see us when it's done,” Cameron said.
The original chapel of First Baptist dates back to 1917. In 1927, the original chapel was maintained but expanded to its current size. An adjacent building where the classrooms are currently located was built in 1960, and in 1971 another building that now includes church offices, the gymnasium and dining hall was erected.
The last major renovation – a $3.5 million project – took place in 1992.
“What we're trying to accomplish is build a new building and renovate some existing space to allow us to effectively minister to the younger generation,” Cameron said. “With a small piece of pie-shaped property on a circle, we're limited by what we can do for space.”
In mid-August, crews began the demolition of the parking lot and playground on the Sullivan Street side of the property, and since then site preparation and utility work have taken place. Last week, crews began pouring the concrete for the new elevator shaft.
On Sunday, the church plans to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the $6.1 million project.
The year-long project will result in 16,000 square feet of renovated space and 22,000 square feet of new space, including a 3,500 square-foot welcome center used for multipurpose gatherings. The old playground equipment has been kept and will go back in place, along with a new second playground.
The expansion will provide new classrooms for preschool children and some new children’s classes while the existing preschool and children’s classrooms will be renovated. Some of the older preschool space will be re-purposed and renovated for the middle school kids, who currently have to meet in the fellowship hall.
“Since our buildings are not currently joined, this (addition) will give us the chance for people to have access to go anywhere in the church without going outside,” Cameron said. “Folks can enter on one level and go anywhere in the church ... the flow of movement is on one level.”
One of the more significant changes coming to First Baptist is a front door off Sullivan Street.
“Our church has multiple entrances, and the last time we counted, it’s something like 35 to 38,” Cameron said. “One of our desires is to have one door facing the redeveloped downtown and where a majority of our parking is.
“We want to be visible not only from Church Circle, but as people drive down Sullivan Street, we want people to see our church and know it's a welcoming environment.”
The entrance will be walk-up only and not include a drop-off. Kingsport recently removed the traffic signal at Sullivan and Clay and in its place will be a raised crosswalk similar to the one on Clinchfield Street near Domtar.
In addition to the expansion, the church also plans to perform $220,000 of improvements to the sanctuary – improvements to sound and lighting and some limited modifications to the stage, to give the room a more contemporary feel, Cameron said.
“I think people are looking forward to (the expansion). It's disruptive but it's a good disruption,” Cameron said. “We hope folks are going to see not just a building as the reason they come. We hope it opens the front door for them.”