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Sunderland church opens center to community

Maple Ridge Church in Sunderland welcomes a variety of groups to use it building that functions as a place of worship as well as a community center.

Maple Ridge Church in Sunderland welcomes a variety of groups to use it building that functions as a place of worship as well as a community center. KATHLEEN McKIERNAN Purchase photo reprints »

— A local church has opened a new 30,000-square-foot facility on Amherst Road both as a worship site as well as a venue to serve the community.

The Maple Ridge Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance at 659 Amherst Road has opened its doors to tennis players, home-school groups, theater groups and dance studios.

“The vision we had was for a building that serves the community and not just church purposes,” said Pastor Sanjoy Mazumdar.

The Christian and Missionary Alliance is an evangelical Protestant denomination. Maple Ridge Church has members coming from 13 towns from Ashfield to Springfield.

The congregation purchased the facility, which housed three indoor tennis courts, on 3.5 acres of land, in 2007. The goal was to shape a building that would be multi-purpose in use serving the local towns and congregation.

As such, the center has undergone major renovations, which turned one of the tennis courts into a lobby, sanctuary or auditorium, bathrooms and kitchen space.

The church relied mostly on donations to fund the work. In the winter of 2007, the heating system broke down and Maple Ridge had to conduct its church services at the Amherst Regional Middle School.

The 85-member church group spent the next few years moving from one location to the next while renovations were under way.

In 2009, the church learned the building needed a more extensive fire alarm system than originally intended and more fire safety features, including large firewalls at a cost of about $90,000, according to Mazumdar.

In 2010, at a cost of $15,000, the church finished the second-floor classrooms and office space. Then, for an additional $150,000, it installed the sprinkler system, which included bringing water from across Route 116.

In October, five years after initially purchasing the building, Maple Ridge opened its community center. All that remains to do is the installation of ramps for the handicapped and roof repairs, which will cost approximately $20,000, according to Mazumdar.

“For a small group of people, it’s been mind-blowing. God keeps providing for us. It keeps us going,” Mazumdar said. The final piece planned is to open a 2,500-square-foot coffee shop at the front of the building. Mazumdar said the church will lease the space to someone willing to house a kids’ cafe and wireless Internet access.

“There are not a lot of places to go to in the winter. We want to make it family friendly and also have a section for the college crowd,” Mazumdar said.

Many groups have already taken advantage of the center. The University of Massachusetts Amherst womens and the Deerfield Academy girls tennis teams practice at the two newly surfaced U.S. Open blue tennis courts. In addition, a group of professional tennis players — Mike Kolendo, Jon Aronstein and Ryan Paquette — teach youth tennis at the center.

Several theater and dance groups, including Starlight’s Youth Theatre of Amherst and Amherst Ballet, perform in the auditorium that seats up to 300 people. On Tuesday afternoons, a local home -school group tutors students. On Sundays, the church holds worship services for church members. And recently, the Sunderland Zoning Board of Appeals gave the church permission to use its front and back parking lots for farmers markets and tag sales.

Maple Ridge was expecting final inspections to be completed on the venue last week.

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