Restoration of the historic Gibson Grove Church on Seven Locks Rd. kicked off Oct. 20 with a groundbreaking ceremony to announce the effort and recognize the state officials who helped secure funding for this critical first step. More than 40 people, including a dozen CJ residents, attended the midday event.
As explained by E.S Bankhead, Jr., chairman of the church’s board of trustees, phase one will actually see some of the structure torn down in order to stabilize the belfry and the front of the building, which must be kept intact to keep the church’s historic designation. Construction equipment was at the property as the newsletter went to press.
Phase one is being funded by a $550,000 state bond awarded in April to stabilize and improve the Gibson Grove site. The bond initiative was first introduced by State Delegate Sara Love and strongly supported by Delegate Marc Korman of the Appropriations Committee. State Senator Susan Lee sponsored the initiative in the Senate.
The total cost of the church rebuilding and expansion project is estimated at $3.2 million. The church property suffered significant structural damage in a 2004 fire, just a year after the First Agape AME Zion Church took over the church property and completed refurbishing it. As the church worked to raise funds and address the restoration requirements due to its historic designation, the property sustained further damage when a massive tree limb dropped on the structure in 2015. Additionally, poorly managed stormwater drainage from the Capital Beltway has caused extensive erosion to the site.
The State Highway Administration recently pledged to mitigate stormwater damage to the church property and the church hopes that will include land improvements to allow for a parking lot on the site. To avoid further tree damage, the church is seeking a county permit to remove two trees, but will mill the wood and store it to use in the new building.
Susan Shipp, CJCA President