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CHURCH BUILDING IS CATCHING EYES

Christ the King Lutheran Church has been around 50 years, but an uplift is making it more noticeable.

Mary Ellen Davis stopped and took a swig of water before finishing her jog. She runs 2 miles a day from her home near Wilcox Road to her mother's apartment near Iroquois Avenue.

"I'm not a church-goer, so I think that's why I never noticed the church before,'' said Davis, 32.

But when the giant cross appeared, she stopped and checked it out. "I can say this. I've ran by this church for about five years, and it's taken this long before that cross made me notice it," she said. "Who knows, I might have to go in one Sunday.''

If the congregation heard the jogger's words, surely a big Amen would be in order.

After 50 years, Christ the King Lutheran Church, 11220 Oakhurst Road, Largo, is undergoing major physical changes. The new building construction began in April and last month the steeple was installed.

The new building will help the congregation expand its ministries into the community and serve as more of an attention-grabber, saidMike Thurau, the church's pastor.

"The cross is up, and I think what's already starting to happen is that folks drive by and they realize so much is going on right here,'' said Thurau, 48. "We've been here for 50 years, and we weren't that noticeable. This is about helping in the community.''

The church, with a congregation of 800, began discussing expansion several years ago. The capital campaign for the new building and steeple was launched in 2005. The builder is Hennessy Construction Services and the architect is Wannemacher Jensen Architects Inc., both of St. Petersburg

"We knew it was time to move forward,'' said Jon Boeche, president of the congregation for Christ the King Lutheran and building committee chairman.

When they began three years ago, the economy was strong, said Boeche, 44. "For example, one mile down the road, First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks was completing their new building,'' he said.

Although their neighbor's 61,000-square-foot worship center wasn't seen as competition, it was a good example of moving into the future, he said.

Included in the Christ the King project, also being built to serve as a hurricane shelter, is an auditorium with multi-purpose flooring for receptions, dances and sporting events, a 1,000-square-foot stage, a kitchen and the 65-foot steeple.

The church is already planning to use the auditorium for the contemporary 11 a.m. service, Christ the King's largest weekly program.

"It's being designed so it won't look only like a gym but God's house,'' Thurau said.

Is it hard to make both a gym and a worship center in one facility?

"A multi-use structure is a challenge,'' said Jeff Jenner, the project manager for Wannemacher Jensen Architects. "We drew inspiration from the existing sanctuary.''

The original church was completed in 1960, and the original architect, John Randall McDonald, was a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The architects focused on light. At the building's entry way, a visitor will see the sun shining through colored glass into the vestibule. "And, as you look up, the higher you go, the more light comes through,'' Jenner said.

The project should be completed by January, according to Tom Canning of Hennessy Construction.

* * *

By the numbers

$4.2 Cost in millions of constructing Christ the King's new building

13,252 square footage of project

6,000 square footage of auditorium

65 Highest point in feet of steeple

25 approximate weight in tons of steel in steeple

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