By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
A property linked with a popular former North Tonawanda church has been sold, and is slated to become a community center geared toward youths by the beginning of next year.
The Msgr. Szabo Hall formerly associated with the Ascension Church on Keil and Vandervoort streets shut its doors a few years ago, and the Catholic Diocese has since been feverishly attempting to sell the property.
That all changed this summer when a nondenominational Christian group, The Fair Havens Church, located on Ward Road, decided to turn a long-simmering vision into reality.
A 22,000 square-foot building will now be transformed into a community center, food pantry and after-school study arena. A catered gathering place for special events and functions in a full-sized gymnasium are also in the works, while a bevy of other ideas are still being hashed out.
Church leader, Pastor Patricia MacKinnon, said the plan was conceived years ago during the church’s infancy. Starting in a Masters Street basement with a dozen members in the early 1980s, the congregation has moved several times to accommodate its progress, until it finally settled at its current location on Ward Road. About 150 families are now a part of the church.
“It was a really very humble beginning,” MacKinnon said.
But the idea to created something larger than themselves and by extension the community has been brewing for years, since one of its founders, Pastor David M. MacKinnon, began looking for an avenue to reach the greater community, beyond the doors of its congregation.
While MacKinnon passed away in 2008, his wife, better known as “Pastor Pat” took control, and along with several other clerical leaders started to put the plan into action.
Dr. Michael Carr, a retired elementary principal and now a youth leader with Fair Havens, said much of the building is already in good shape, though a barrage of church volunteers have been hard at work since the building’s purchase was finalized in August. Concrete work is nearly complete, a bicycle rack has been installed and landscaping is finished.
“We’ve had a lot of people come out and help,” Carr said. “And for that, we’re really thankful.”
As the project ambles toward manifestation, the keys are being officially handed over Sunday when former Ascension pastor Rev. Ted Jost makes the sale ceremonially official, and those tied to the Fair Haven Community Center inch one step closer to fulfilling a dream.
“We have a beautiful building here,” she said. “We’re going to do the very best we have to reach the community. That’s really what it’s all about.”