UPPER WEST SIDE — An Upper West Side church that was so poorly heated that worshipers had to wear coats during chilly Sunday services is finally warm and toasty, thanks to a new boiler.
West-Park Presbyterian Church on West 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue got the new boiler up and running on Dec. 30, after months of raising funds to help cover its $84,000 pricetag, said the church's pastor, Rev. Robert Brashear.
The boiler isn't just making life more comfortable for the people who use West-Park Presbyterian. It also marks an important milestone for the historic church.
West-Park, considered a prime example of Romanesque Revival architecture, was landmarked in 2010 against the wishes of its congregation, which had wanted to convert part of the building into apartments to finance a renovation of the church's badly damaged interior.
The landmarking halted the church's real estate plans, because landmarked buildings can't be altered. Since then the church has been trying to raise money for the costly renovation, and a functioning boiler was first on the list of desperately needed upgrades, said Brashear.
"This is a major, major step," said Brashear. "Nothing could happen until this was taken care of. We had days when it would be in the 50's outside and you'd have to step outside to warm up."
Several groups had considered renting space at West-Park — an important source of revenue for the church — but decided not to when they realized there was no heat, Brashear said.
With reliable heat, West-Park's drafty building has become habitable, which puts the church on a path toward achieving Brashear's dream of building a community gathering spot for "spiritual and social transformation" called The Center at West-Park, he said.
City Councilwoman Gale Brewer was hailed as a hero in the campaign to get a new boiler, winning over some church members who had previously criticized her during the landmarking controversy,
Brashear said Brewer was "absolutely fantastic" in convincing city agencies and ConEd to speed up the process of getting the boiler installed.
"It took a lot of expediting," Brewer said. "They came very quickly, and it could have taken weeks to get it signed off on."
Brewer also hosted fundraisers to help cover the $84,000 cost of the boiler. With contributions from the public and from private foundations, the church managed to raise about $64,000, which covered the boiler's down payment and installation.
Some of that money came from the church's own operating funds, Brashear said. Roughly another $20,000 is still needed. "It's not over, we still need money," Brewer said.
Next, the church is setting its sights on repairing its elevator, Brashear said.
Meanwhile, West-Park has been hosting cultural and political events that fit in with Brashear's vision for The Center at West-Park. Among them were a craft fair, concerts, and a film series with post-screening discussions, Brashear said. A theater group recently turned the church into a set for a play and members of Sweatshop Free Upper West Side have been meeting at West-Park.
In recent weeks Occupy Wall Street's Spokes Council has been meeting at the church, and West-Park is in negotiations with Occupy Wall Street about providing sleeping spaces, Brashear said. West-Park has a long history of political involvement. Years ago, the church was at the forefront of the movement to allow gay clergy.