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Real Estate - Commercial

Homebuilder Transforming Former Church Structure Into Office

By Cece Nunn, posted Nov 25, 2020
The last service at Pearsall Memorial Presbyterian Church, a Wilmington house of worship built more than 100 years ago, took place in June 2019. On a recent weekday this year, the whir and pop of saws and nails by crews working for a local homebuilder emanated from the 3-acre property on Market Street.

Wilmington-based PBC Design + Build’s creations typically provide custom spaces for other people, but this time, the church project is transforming part of local history into the firm’s future home.

Crews are working on making the former fellowship hall at Pearsall Memorial Presbyterian Church, 3902 Market St., into a new office for PBC Design + Build. Unlike the church sanctuary, which dates back to 1913, the fellowship hall was built in the 1970s.

“We’ve built hundreds of amazing custom homes for our clients, but we’ve never really had the opportunity to build a space for ourselves, some place that allows us to work for us for the next 20 years,” said Dave Spetrino, president of PBC. “For years we’ve been saving ideas and imagining ‘what we would do’ when given an opportunity to have a clean slate like this. So while we won’t modify the footprint or exterior walls, we’re doing everything else.”

That includes opening up the steel truss ceiling, bringing in light through a clerestory (a kind of raised skylight) at the ridge line and then creating workspaces, Spetrino explained.

“The rectangular space with its high ceilings is wide open, completely barrier-free,” Spetrino said of the fellowship hall. “Designed by Leslie Boney Jr. in the late 1960s, it has this terrific mid-century modern feel without becoming a distraction to the adjacent historic sanctuary.

“It’s also probably one of the best-built concrete and metal buildings we’ve seen locally – the guys who built this weren’t messing around.”

Other parts of the building will also be reused.

“There is a stage inside that will be fun to repurpose and having this high, clear span of open space is like a blank canvas,” Spetrino said. “We can showcase our work but also establish a space that not only increases our efficiency as a team but also encourages more creativity across our projects.”

The sanctuary and other buildings that were added to and grew up around the church over the years will be preserved, Spetrino said.

Giving a tour of the sanctuary, where pristine pews are wrapped in plastic, Spetrino said he could see the structure one day becoming an event venue or destination restaurant like Indochine, a popular eatery north of the Pearsall property on Market Street.

So while the firm plans to fully use the 4,200 square feet in the fellowship hall, “we have no concrete plans for the sanctuary and other gathering spaces within the main church areas. We have some ideas but no clear path other than to ‘preserve and protect,’” said Spetrino, who also said he’s not in a hurry to make plans for the space other than preservation.

PBC Design + Build is moving from its current home of 314 Walnut St. (since 2012) in downtown Wilmington, likely in April or May.

To read more about the project, check out the Dec. 4 print edition of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.
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