Community Family Government

FH Residents Discuss Idea to Turn Church into Community Center

The idea of turning a Fountain Hill church building into a community center received cautious support from most of the attendees at an informal meeting held Tuesday, including two borough councilmen. But what became clear from the discussion is that many uncertainties and potential challenges remain before art classes and birthday parties are being held in the former St. Paul’s.

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Fountain Hill Church Community Center

Fountain Hill Borough councilman Stew McCandless (left) speaks during a meeting held at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Tuesday. The small congregation has proposed donating its building for use as a community center, which could be rented out to various groups–including the congregation.

The idea of turning a Fountain Hill church building into a community center received cautious support from many of the attendees at an informal meeting held Tuesday, including two borough council members. But what was also clear from the discussion is that many uncertainties and potential challenges remain before art classes and birthday parties are held in the former St. Paul’s.

To start, it isn’t clear that the congregation at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Delaware Avenue is ready to give up their beloved home. Pastor Maureen Werkheiser noted during the discussion that there has been a recent uptick in the number of worshipers and said the church plans to host more meetings to discuss the idea of donating its building to a community coalition.

Still, she acknowledged that the congregation is struggling to fill pews as the average age of its members increases.

Church Community Days

St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church is located at 1059 Delaware Avenue in Fountain Hill borough. (FILE PHOTO)

“Our membership is dwindling,” said Werkheiser, who noted that six church members have passed away just in the last two months.

St. Paul’s has also been fortunate to remain on relatively stable financial footing, but one unexpected major expense could be decisive in determining its future, she told members of the Fountain Hill Community Coalition and others who attended the meeting in the church’s fellowship hall.

Coalition chair Mike Zovko said the group also needs to come up with a plan for a community center that would be sustainable. Some of the programs he said such an institution might offer include daycare services, a senior center, after school care, continuing education classes and fitness classes.

In order for the community center vision to become a sustainable reality, Zovko said the FHCC will need to obtain grants; something that isn’t easy with its current, limited supply of funds. However, he said owning the building would put it in a financial position to apply for grant money that is currently out of reach.

Before any of that can happen, coalition members agreed that the building’s structural integrity and overall physical condition should be assessed. According to Lehigh County property records, St. Paul’s was built in 1968 and is a 5,100 square foot building on a property that measures 120 feet by 140 feet.

Werkheiser said the church has at most 10 off-street parking spaces, with parking being a potential concern that was raised during the meeting.

Other concerns raised during the meeting included:

  • Zoning
  • Access that would be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Availability of volunteers to help run a community center
  • Possibility of support from St. Luke’s University Health Network, which is headquartered in Fountain Hill and as its biggest property owner plays an outsized role in the life of the borough.

On a more positive note, participants in the discussion seemed to agree that having a community center could go a long way toward helping Fountain Hill regain a sense of identity that’s been lost.

“Fountain Hill can be somewhat forgotten in the space between Allentown and Bethlehem,” said Zovko, who has chaired the FHCC since it was formed nearly two years ago to help save the borough’s swimming pool from permanent closure.

Borough councilman Stew McCandless said there are many younger families who now call Fountain Hill home, including more transient families who occupy a large number of rental properties.

“There’s got to be enough of a commitment from everyone, and that’s going to be the tougher part,” he said, adding that he sees reopening the pool as vital to restoring Fountain Hill’s identity.

“We need to keep working on that,” McCandless said.

Council president Norm Blatt said a 1999 comprehensive study identified a community center as part of a plan for a future Fountain Hill.

Twenty-five years later, he said there’s still hope for that to become a reality.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Blatt said. “I think we would need more information.”

“Build it and they will come,” said coalition board member Mike Redding. “I think that saying applies.”

Zovko said one of the group’s next steps will be to research smaller community centers in nearby communities that are succesful.

One such organization, he said, is Hellertown’s Saucon Valley Community Center, which is located in a former church building on Northampton Street.

Following up on a suggestion by a meeting attendee, Zovko suggested that future meetings to discuss the community center proposal be held on a monthly basis.

At the next meeting, it was suggested that a tour of St. Paul’s be part of the agenda.

Werkheiser said the congregation at St. Paul’s plans to meet to discuss the possibility of donating the church building in late April and again in June, with a decision likely after the second meeting.

To receive updates on the community center meetings, follow the Fountain Hill Community Coalition’s Facebook page or email mz********@gm***.com to be added to the group’s email list.

Meeting attendees discuss the idea of turning St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fountain Hill into a community center.


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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at

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