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'It makes me feel pretty sad': Kalamazoo church being demolished after 140 years

First Reformed Church of Kalamazoo Demolition
Posted at 3:39 PM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-01 17:18:18-05

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — After 140 years, a church in Kalamazoo is slowly being demolished, but the history and memories are staying alive through those who attended it.

As of Tuesday, there was only one wall left standing of the First Reformed Church of Kalamazoo.

The pastor said that wall is going to have to be taken down by hand since it's only six inches away from the church behind it.

While they're already about a week into the demolition, one 91-year-old man is remembering his time spent there.

"Practically all of my life I’ve been apart of this church," said Richard VanderMolden who attended the church for 70 years.

VanderMolen said he was baptized at the church. He also said his oldest son was married there.

"It makes me feel pretty sad to see some place I grew up in, went to catechism at, and actually I was the property chairman of the church and maintained it, to see it come down is disheartening to me," said VanderMolen.

The senior pastor for the First Congregational Church said the demolition comes after 25 years of neglect.

"Unfortunately these buildings require six figure budgets just to maintain. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to find a developer who was willing to take on that responsibility," said First Congregational Church's Senior Pastor Nathan Dannison.

Dannison said they spent around three years looking for a developer, but costs were too high to bring it back. He said the estimates they received ranged from $2.5 to $5 million just for it to be safe for people to enter.

After much thought, they decided to go a different route.

"It was a challenging decision. Basically what we wanted was something that could keep with the culture of church square, something that was free and accessible for the residents of the city. Children need access to nature, and there isn’t a whole lot for them to do at Bronson Park. We thought this would be a really nice addition to the park," said Dannison.

The children's nature playscape will have trees and grass and will be gated.

As it comes to life, they are seeking feedback from the community with what they'd like to see there for kids.

Dannison said they believe it will be the largest playscape for a downtown area in the country. They are hoping to open it to the public sometime in 2022.

For more information on the playscape, click here.