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St. Sebastian gaining use of Forest Lodge

1/6/2011 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

St. Sebastian Parish will gain the use of Forest Lodge for meeting and activity space. The building is located across the street from the Mull Avenue church.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
WEST AKRON — St. Sebastian Parish and the city of Akron have entered into an agreement that will soon see the church begin to use the city’s Forest Lodge building for meetings and activities.

Forest Lodge is located across the street from the Mull Avenue church.

The Rev. John Valencheck, St. Sebastian pastor, said the idea to use the building came up about two years ago because of the church’s need for additional space.

“We have a lot of buildings, but we’re space poor,” Valencheck said. “We have very large rooms and very teeny, tiny rooms and very little office space. When we knew that building was largely unused, we called the city [about using it], and they said yes.”

The Cleveland Diocese gave its approval to the initial concept, and the parish and city worked to craft an agreement, which then had to be approved by the diocese. The diocese’s recent church reorganization effort kept the proposal from moving forward quickly, Valencheck said.

The pastor announced the agreement to the parish in late November, and it was official in the weeks that followed, he said.

According to Greg Kalail, manager of the Akron Recreation Bureau, the Forest Lodge building has not been used much since programs based there relocated to the Northwest Family Recreation Center, which opened in 2002.

City officials said Forest Lodge was one of several Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects built in Akron in the 1930s. It was used for shelter for ice skaters that came to the park.

The upstairs provided living quarters for the park’s caretaker and his family. In later years, it was used as a recreation center and housed preschool and dance classes, according to city officials.

Kalail said the city would continue to maintain the park at the site. The church is making an investment in improvements to the building, so St. Sebastian will not pay the city to use the building, he added.

Valencheck said the church would likely begin using Forest Lodge within a couple of months. The building will be used for mid-sized meetings as well as other types of gatherings, Valencheck said.

“We’d like to have a coffeehouse once a week so there’s an opportunity for people to talk,” he said. “We’d like to have an open mic night occasionally, or our music ministry might like to do a little coffeehouse concert.”

The pastor said the congregation has been positive about the additional space.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people told me they used to go skating over there.”

Kalail said the agreement is good for the city and neighborhood.

“Any time you can have programming in a building, whether it’s city provided or organization provided, it’s a benefit for the community,” he said.

“We will be able to do things now that we did not do before because we simply did not have the space,” Valencheck said. “I also really like the idea that there will be activity in the park in the evening. It’s just good for the neighborhood. It’s a win-win-win for everybody.”

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