Plan commission to consider site development plan modification for former North Christian Church

The Columbus Plan Commission on Wednesday night will consider a site development plan major modification of the former North Christian Church so it can be used as a Bartholomew County Public Library (BCPL) branch.

BCPL board members voted to accept the gift of the property in April of this year.

The Eero Saarinen-designed church had seen its attendance dwindle to a handful of people before being disbanded in July 2022.

The change of use would also allow for an increased use of the outdoor portions of the 14-acre site as a public space for outdoor programming, changing the relationship of the site to adjacent properties, according to a planning department staff report.

A preliminary recommendation by planning staff requests approval, including conditions related to parking and that trees along access drives be trimmed to meet Columbus Fire Department requirements.

The gifting of the church also comes after a recent BCPL strategic plan and facilities assessment found library spaces are at capacity.

The church is one of 43 structures in Indiana that have received the National Historic Landmark designation, according to the National Park Service. The six-side church with a sloping roof and a 192-foot spire with a gold-leaf cross was the last building designed by Saarinen.

BCPL has a track record of using architecturally and historically significant buildings in the past— the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library which serves as the main service point was designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei and the Hope Branch was designed by Deborah Burke.

Library Director Jason Hatton previously estimated that any future library use of North Christian might not be ready for the public until perhaps 2028, though he said use of the church’s grounds for programming could happen years sooner.

While renovation costs will be necessary, the new campus can be created for far less than constructing a new building, library officials have said.

Hatton told board members earlier that about $800,000 exists in a former North Christian fund from a building insurance policy, which could be used for some repairs and other needs.