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Conference goes green with new center

Conference goes green with new center

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference goes green with new center
By J.A. Buchholz | May 4, 2010 {1168}

Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side.

That’s the case with the new Florida United Methodist Conference Center, which will be occupied by the conference’s episcopal office, Florida United Methodist Foundation Inc., Georgia Florida United Methodist Federal Credit Union and conference staff in mid-June. The roughly 34,000 square-foot building will be “green” and LEED certified.

The new Florida United Methodist Conference Center, still under construction, is located at 450 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue across from Lake Wire in downtown Lakeland. The expected move-in date is June 16. Photo by Frank North. Photo #10-1436. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery.

LEED certification is the recognized standard for measuring building sustainability in the United States, as well as a number of other countries around the world.

The Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of Connectional Ministries, said the greening of the building adds to the appeal of the new Lake Wire location, in downtown Lakeland.

“We are excited,” Fogle-Miller said of the pending move. “It has been a lot of work with sorting, packing, recycling, gearing up for it, but it will be a lovely work space.”

The Rev. Dr. Bob Gibbs, pastor at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Brandon, has chaired the conference center relocation task force since its 2005 formation. He is pleased with the new conference home.

“I think the advantage of this space for the annual conference is that it gives us a very visible location, a beautiful building that will be easily accessible, will house all of our major offices and staffs, and will save us money on energy costs and maintenance,” he said.

Greener, bigger, more efficient

The building’s green attributes, such as using chilled water to make the air-conditioning unit run more efficiently, will make those savings possible. In a chilled-water system, water is cooled at 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit, then piped throughout the building and connected to air handlers as needed. Rainwater will be collected for landscaping, and the carpeting selected is made from a large percentage of recycled material. Energy efficient light bulbs and sensors that automatically turn off lighting when a room is no longer occupied will also be used.

Fogle-Miller said the building’s energy efficiency is a practical application of “Cherishing Creation,” the theme of the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event.

The building will also better meet the current technological needs of staff, who were often hampered with electrical wiring and technological problems, in addition to air-conditioning woes, that were not an issue when the United Methodist Building was built more than 40 years ago, Fogle-Miller said.

“The building we’re in now needs a lot of work in terms of air-conditioning and wiring,” she said. “It has served us well. We just do business in a very different way than we did 41 years ago.”

Gibbs said there had been a considerable amount of discussion by conference staff and administrators that the existing office building was out-of-date and inefficient.

The current conference center in Lakeland was built in 1969. File photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-1056. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0937, 11/05/08. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery.

“The conference staff had changed in so many ways since the building was built in the 1960s,” he said. “Their space needs were much different. Renovations had been made over the years, but those had not been sufficient.

“The heating and cooling and ventilation systems were not efficient, nor effective. Current wiring and other electrical needs with technologies that were light years away from the needs when the building was built also played a big part (in the relocation).”

The new building has open floor plans enabling shared office space, as well as modular offices. The building will also have quiet rooms where people can have private conversations and make cell phone calls so others aren’t interrupted.

A perk of the new building is an exercise room that includes showers so employees may return to work after working out.

The exercise room is a direct result of the conference being able to configure the interior of the building to its specifications, Gibbs said.

Tom Marston, president of the Florida United Methodist Foundation, said foundation staff members and leaders are pleased to be able to physically reunite with conference staff. Foundation staff moved out of the existing conference center and into its current downtown Lakeland site in August 2005, primarily due to space constraints, Marston said.

Not only will the new location provide the space the foundation needs now and in the future, Marston said, but it also symbolizes a more visible and ecologically-minded presence in Lakeland.

Win-win solution

Fogle-Miller describes the new site as a win-win for the Florida Conference, its entities and Florida Southern College.

Florida Southern College (FSC) President Anne Kerr announced a $3.5-million gift from Marjorie and Hal Roberts of Lakeland in October 2009 that will be used to establish the Roberts Academy, a transitional school for gifted children with dyslexia in the current United Methodist Building once it is vacated. The current center will then be designed to house the Roberts Academy, the Roberts Center for Learning and Literacy, the Florida Southern Department of Education, and FSC preschool and kindergarten programs.

When FSC offered to purchase the United Methodist Building it made it possible for the conference to purchase the former Holland and Knight law offices on Lake Wire that had been previously viewed, but required too much work and was too expensive to renovate, Gibbs said.

“Last year the property became available, after having been gutted for renovation, and the College made an offer on our building,” Gibbs said. “This made it possible for us to have enough space for our conference office staff, the bishop’s office, the Credit Union and the Florida United Methodist Foundation, all in one location.”

Conference members approved the relocation plan and funding for it in a special session of the annual conference in February 2009. The $3.5 million FSC paid for the purchase of the current building, plus $1.5 million from the Florida United Methodist Foundation and about $1 million from unrestricted, undesignated conference reserves, made the purchase and renovation of the Lake Wire property possible. The credit union also entered into a lease valued at $500,000. No additional apportionment dollars were used.

The new conference center is located at 450 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Lakeland, FL 33815-1522. The phone number will remain the same: 863-688-5563 or 800-282-8011. The expected move-in date is June 16. Staff may be reached there after that date.

Related stories

Members approve plans to relocate conference center

Commentary: Calling a special session of the annual conference

Plans for Florida Conference Center progress

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.