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West Allis church banks on new home on Burnham

Sept. 10, 2012

West Allis - Cornerstone Christian Life Tabernacle has the city's blessing to settle in its own home in West Allis.

The Common Council last week approved a special-use permit the church needed to renovate and move into a former credit union building at 5433 W. Burnham St.

Currently, the roughly 45-member congregation rents Grace Chapel at 81st Street and Lapham Avenue, where it has held worship services for about eight years.

Filling an empty building

The congregation plans to extensively renovate the Burnham Street building, with the inside completely redesigned and the exterior freshened up.

Turning a former credit union into a church presents some unusual challenges.

For one thing, the huge doors to the credit union's two vaults have to be removed. They probably can be sold, along with the bulletproof glass, said the church's pastor, the Rev. Edgar Hays.

A wheelchair lift that descends to the lower level will be installed in place of the first-floor vault, Hays said.

It will take at least two months to renovate the building enough to hold services there, he added.

Blending into neighborhood

The church will have services on Sundays and eventually activities on weekday evenings. Because the use will be at off-hours, city officials said the church wouldn't cause traffic or parking problems.

The city already approved a special-use permit for another church that wanted to use the building, but never moved in, said John Stibal, city director of development. The city code calls for 29 off-street spaces be provided, but the church is able to only provide six.

What little neighbors had to say about the prospect was positive.

"I'm very happy," said neighbor Amy Heron, the only speaker at the public hearing last week.

From her standpoint, an empty building invites problems.

"The building has been empty for three years, which could lead to unfortunate circumstances," Heron said.

Reaching out to youth

The nucleus of the congregation started with the Living Word Church in New Berlin. Eventually, church members decided to set up a missions church in West Allis, Hays said. (Both congregations are nondenominational.)

Hays himself said he feels a strong call to help young people. As a corrections chaplain for 23 years with the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department and the County Correctional Facility-South, previously known as the House of Correction, he said, "I've seen a lot of the destruction side of things."

"I want to reach out to younger people because so much is pulling kids away from the house of God and from families," Hays said.

West Allis is a very good community, he said, and the church just wants to contribute to its efforts.

Residents may have seen members of the church participating in the city's National Night Out and in the alternative nights out at the high schools, Hays said.

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