Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music expansion includes historic UCC church
Written by George T. Richard
October - November 2008

Baldwin-Wallace College has rented a portion of the church since 2005. Ron Linek photo.
College, 153-year-old congregation forge agreement

Leaders of Baldwin-Wallace College and First Congregational UCC of Berea, Ohio, have reached an agreement that would permit the college to acquire and renovate church properties, securing the church's future and providing a much-needed expansion of its Conservatory of Music.

The agreement, which includes an undisclosed amount of cash, the transfer of two college-owned lots and temporary use of Baldwin-Wallace's Lindsay-Crossman Chapel facilities for church services during a possible construction period, is contingent upon property inspections as well as both the college and the church receiving any required city zoning and planning approvals.

In a jointly-issued announcement, Baldwin-Wallace president Richard Durst and church president Dennis Stocker acknowledged the open and candid process that had helped facilitate the discussion between the church and college, and the decision by the congregation to approve the sale.

"We are convinced that this decision will have significant benefits for First Congregational UCC and its members, for our Conservatory of Music, and for the community of Berea," said Durst. "I believe we all are eager to move ahead with new construction and renovation that will enhance the program offerings of two of Berea's longest-standing citizens."

The Baldwin-Wallace College Conservatory of Music currently enrolls about 300 full-time students and educates thousands of area residents through its outreach programs headquartered in Kulas and Merner-Pfeiffer halls. Expanding and renovating those facilities is a major component for "Transforming Lives: The Campaign for Baldwin-Wallace College," which currently is underway.

Berea's First Congregational UCC was founded by abolitionists in 1855. Construction of the church's historic facility, adjacent to the Conservatory's Merner-Pfeiffer Hall, began about 1870, making it the oldest standing church building in the city. While part of the United Church of Christ, with national headquarters in Cleveland, the local church is autonomous and is ruled democratically by its membership.

First Congregational UCC is well-known in the community for its day care program and Church Street Ministries, an ecumenical outreach program founded in 1994 to meet human needs across the county through counseling and guidance for refugees and the homeless, and intervention for at-risk and chemically dependent youth.

Since 2005, Baldwin-Wallace has rented a portion of the church space for its music therapy and music outreach programs. College officials had approached First Congregational UCC members in early 2007 about possibly selling the entire facility. College leaders addressed the congregation last fall and members of the congregation voted Dec. 9, 2007 to authorize their leaders to negotiate terms of a possible sale to Baldwin-Wallace. The 225-member congregation voted June 29 to pursue and finalize, if appropriate, the sale of the church facility.

"The church will continue to search for new and expanded ways to carry out its ministries to Berea and metropolitan Cleveland," Stocker said. 

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