On Wednesday evening a nationally recognized group of experts will be in town to help plan the future uses of one of our community’s oldest structures. The Partners for Sacred Place (PSP) is a national non-profit that helps the owners of historic church buildings with finding new revenue potential for the buildings. PSP will be in Wheeling at the invitation of the Wheeling National Heritage Area, which received a grant from the National Park Service to work with PSP in the planning the re-use of the 1837 Blue Church building.
The public is invited to participate in the two-day charrette event taking place at the church on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. On Sept. 30, the Partners for Sacred Places will lead a community asset-mapping event, helping identify the resources available for creating a art and music venue in downtown Wheeling. The event will begin at 5 p.m. with a Social Hour that will include food catered by Vagabond Kitchen and live music by Steven Moore, a locally grown, nationally recognized banjo and guitar aficionado. At 6 p.m,, there will be a brief presentation by Partners for Sacred Places, which will highlight successful rehabilitation of church buildings from around the United States. At 7 p.m. there will be an opportunity for the public to identify and discuss resources available for re-imagining the future of this landmark building.
Asset mapping is a group exercise that involves people from all different walks of life and interests. Their common bond is that each has something to offer — perspective, enthusiasm, connections, support, curiosity, creativity, etc. Once gathered, participants are invited to identify specific strengths and resources that are assets within the community.
On Thursday Oct. 1, the Mills Group architects will be leading and all-day design charrette that will use the public’s input to shape the conceptual re-design of the building. The public is invited to “drop-in” throughout the day to observe, comment, and guide the design process. The Mills Group is a Wheeling & Morgantown based architecture firm that has a long track record in successful charrette- planning process. The firm has worked with a variety of community arts groups from around the state. At 6 p.m. that day the Mills Group Architects and Partners for Sacred Places will make a presentation of their conceptual design ideas.
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So, what is a charrette? It is an intense design and planning meeting that finds solutions to problems through quick decision-making process and working until the very deadline. The word ‘charrette’ is French for cart, and its use in this type of planning effort comes from 19th century Paris. At that time when an art student’s work was due at the École des Beaux-Arts, the students were known to work hastily to finish their artwork up until the time that a horse and cart would arrive to carry it away. Many students would continue working on the cart until they arrived at campus.
The Blue Church event is taking place as result of a National Park Service grant. The award of this grant speaks to the unique opportunity that this building possesses. There were a dozen other applicants for this technical service grant, and Wheeling Heritage was one of two National Heritage Areas to receive assistance this year (Baltimore the other). The Blue Church is well-positioned in downtown and East Wheeling to be a successful venue; both areas are seeing reinvestment that is unprecedented in recent decades. This charrette event gives the public the opportunity to help guide the rehabilitation of this particular building. It also provides the opportunity for the community at-large to realize there are meaningful ways of engaging the public when it comes to planning the future of a building or neighborhood.
While Wheeling Heritage has brought new life to the former church through art and entertainment opportunity, there is more work to be done. Wheeling Heritage is proud to add to the revitalization taking place in East Wheeling, but there are still unique challenges to maintaining and preserving this landmark building. Meeting these challenges means serious long-term planning and garnering the attention from a range of leaders and supporters, people just like you.
Schedule of Activities
5 to 6 p.m. Tours of the Blue Church with social hour with refreshments and live music
6 to 7 p.m. Welcome by Heritage Area and Presentation on Church Reuse by Partners for
7 to 9 p.m. Asset-Mapping Event, led by Partners’ staff
9 p.m. to Noon Design Charrette with public invited to observe and comment
Noon to 4 p.m. Preparation of visuals and concepts by architects
6 p.m. Presentation of Design Concepts and Next Steps