We find ourselves in a defining moment on the timeline of Greenville. In the face of rapid growth, we can all relate to the desire to preserve our past while simultaneously building for the future. Off West Stone Avenue, tucked in the heart of Elias Earle Historic District sits a church, Earle Street Baptist. A pillar in the local community for almost 100 years, Earle Street, also known as ESBC, was recently faced with that very desire. Much like the surrounding neighborhood, the church experienced exponential growth throughout the last decade which resulted in a flourishing congregation with no room to grow.
In the summer of 2017, following years of deliberation, the church broke ground on a 14,000 square foot expansion to their education building. This decision would allow them to continue to use their existing historical site by connecting the old with the new and bringing with it accessibility for all members. We recently sat down with Denise Plumblee, ESBC’s Minister of Administration, to highlight her experience as part of the building committee, an otherwise untold story of building for the future. She explained the hardships and the joys of the building process to bring clarity for those who might someday find themselves in her shoes.
The goal was simple: to provide a new space for the community to worship, fellowship and serve for years to come. The building would provide ample classroom space for church members, an extension to their preschool wing, a new welcome center lobby and an updated church parking lot. But as a true novice in the construction industry, Plumblee recalls, “My greatest fear was can I do this? I felt ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the project.”
She went on to explain that it was the people, her project team, who were instrumental in helping her overcome those initial fears. “My advice to someone embarking on a similar project would be that you need to have a partner you can work with who will truly help you,” remarked Plumblee, “You may not be in a position where you ultimately control that, but I think finding someone that you can laugh and cry with makes the experience. Simply put, find a partner you can trust who is not going to let you down. For me, I found that partner in Mavin Construction.”
As we walked along the hallways of the three – story addition, Plumblee paused often to recount stories from the build. “The ability of our team to work through unpredictable challenges amazed me. We were dealing with a sanctuary that was built in 1922 and the education building circa 1950, both of which we were integrating into the current addition. We didn’t know in some cases what was behind the wall or under the ground.” Despite the unique challenges their campus presented, the church continues to see their rich history as something to be proud of. On the third floor a large timeline installation fills the hall, with hundreds of photos and artifacts donated by the congregation. It serves as a celebration of the past while leaving room to expand in the future. “I am truly proud of the building. It is part of my legacy here at the church,” says Plumblee, “Long after we are gone, this building will still be here. I’m hoping that 100 years from now someone will look back and be thankful we did this project.”
As our city continues to renovate, restore and expand, it is critical to remember where we came from and reflect on the lessons learned along the way. Greenville has an opportunity to differentiate itself by valuing strategic growth, with an emphasis on preserving the past and preparing our communities for the future. Earle Street Baptist continues to be a prime example of just that.
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