By JOHN T. WARD
The pews and organ are gone. But touches of what made the former First Church of Christ, Scientist in Red Bank a place of worship remain as the 62-year-old structure is transformed into an office building with the decidedly secular name of “211 Broad Street.”
The giant clerestory windows have been preserved, though their arched tops are now at eye-level on a second floor erected in what had been open sanctuary space. The original wood dentil molding has been retained. And there’s a small round window, hidden for years behind the organ, that will deliver light and views previously available only to the occasional maintenance worker.
Most prominently, there’s the steeple. For passersby, its storybook patina-green spire will continue to soar toward the heavens – though by this time next year, some office occupant who gazes upward will be able to get an eyeful of its guts.
“It’s like architectural sculpture,” developer Bob Silver, of Bravitas Group, said of the intricate lacing of timbers. “We never even considered taking it down.”
The original window arches that once soared above the congregation are at eye-level on the new second floor. Bravitas partners Bob Silver and Jay Schweppe, below, specialize in adaptive reuse of churches and industrial buildings. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
For Bravitas, which specializes in the environmentally friendly repurposing of buildings that have outlived their original uses, the church project is a bit of deja vu. The firm won borough zoning board approval for the conversion in April, after members of the dwindling congregation asked Bravitas to do what it had done with a Christian Science church in Montclair: buy their property and remake it into something they might have a place in.
So Bravitas paid the church $1 million for the 1.5-acre property, according to Monmouth County records. Now, under the plan, the developer is turning a 55-year-old, one-story church annex into a two-story, 50-seat house of worship and Sunday school that the congregation will rent. It will have its own entrances.
“We allow them to stay in their house,” said Silver, and though there’s rent to pay, “they have the capital from the sale.”
The meat of the project, however, is the transformation of church space into about 14,000 square feet of idiosyncratic office spaces for an estimated 70 workers, who are expected to begin moving in starting next July.
At the moment, the down-to-the bones look of the interior would be only barely recognizable to even the most devoted churchgoer.
Gone, for starters, is the ceiling that concealed the giant wood trusses. The raw underside of the roof is to remain exposed, though Silver and Bravitas partner Jay Schweppe are considering one prospective tenant’s request that the section above her work area be painted.
“We’re kind of the anti-drop-ceiling developers,” said Silver.
New, energy-efficient materials make some choices possible on the project, for which Bravitas hopes to win LEED-certification from the United States Green Building Council.
“Originally, we thought we’d have to Sheetrock over” the roof’s underside to conceal insulation, Silver said. “But the slate roof is shot, so we’ll insulate between the sheathing and the new shingles,” which won’t be slate and, in keeping with the all-green approach to the project, will reflect the sun’s heat away from the surface, he said.
Co-designed by Sionas Architecture and RHG Design, the project also calls for reusing timbers, which are being made into office furniture, including the table for the shared conference room. The original glass from the arched windows, which is being replaced with energy-efficient glazing, will be transformed into artwork that lines a first-floor hallway.
The recycling began even before Bravitas took title. The congregation sold pews to another church as well as to individuals – redbankgreen‘s publisher bought one, for $200, we should note. The doors went to “a guy building a house locally,” and the organ was sold to another church, Silver said.
Even the waste wood and concrete is being recycled, he said, pointing to a giant grinding machine in the parking lot.
“We recycle everything,” said Silver. “Part of the adaptive reuse is making sure we salvage materials and keep as much as possible out of the landfills.”
Silver and Schweppe have been doing this kind of thing for about seven years. Both residents of Montclair, they met after Silver lost his job on Wall Street – and went looking for suitably cool office space in which to start anew. Unable to find it, he set out to create it.
His first project, a former auto parts shop, had a prior history as maker of brass plaques, so he dubbed it BrassWorks, embellishing the space with touches from the original factory. Even in a down economy, the place filled up with tenants immediately, said Silver.
Through an architect, he met Schweppe, who’d recently sold his successful residential 42-year-old real estate brokerage. They’ve since gone on to convert an old gas station to a home for a karate studio and an insurance broker; a former Katherin Gibs secretarial school building; a Victorian home, which they turned into offices; and the Montclair church, now called Hillside Square. It, too, still has its original steeple.
And “with all our properties in Montclair, we don’t have a single inch of vacancy,” said Schweppe. “We never do.”
Schweppe and Silver are hoping for the same reception in Red Bank, where they believe there are few options for small business owners who want custom, green workspace in a complex with its own parking lot and electrical vehicle charging stations – and are willing to pay a premium for it.
How much? Base prices, Silver said, will be at or near the top of the market, though he declined to specify a dollar value. “Somebody might want ebony wood floors and exotic marble countertops,” whereas another client might want a spartan bullpen, he said. “That all has to be factored in.”
Silver and Schweppe are hoping 211 is accepted not only for what it is, but for what it’s not.
“I think most developers would have torn down the church and densed it up with residential,” said Silver, noting that a zoning border cuts through the property, allowing homes on one side.
Silver said Bravitas is also using local tradespeople and professionals as much as possible. Among them: Jorge Hernandez, a specialist in refurbishing church steeples, who Silver hired after he read about him in a redbankgreen feature about the restoration of the Christ Church Episcopal cupola in Shrewsbury.