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Franklin Park planners OK plan for church's expansion

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 9:48 p.m.

Orchard Hill Church's steady growth since its founding 25 years ago is resulting in expansion on- and off-site.

Not only has the Franklin Park church been holding services in Pittsburgh's Cultural District since October, but on Tuesday Franklin Park's five planning commission members unanimously recommended that the borough council approve a preliminary site plan and conditional use permit for a chapel and maintenance building the church wants to build on its Brandt School Road property.

Worship services and special ceremonies are held in a space that seats about 1,500 people, said Orchard Hill's senior pastor, the Rev. Kurt Bjorklund.

Bjorklund said the current Franklin Park facility doesn't accommodate weddings and funerals as well as the church would like. “We have more of an auditorium kind of feel,” he said.

The church needs extra space for worship services – between 2,500 and 3,000 people attend Orchard Hill functions throughout the week — so the chapel will allow for alternative worship services on Sunday mornings, he said.

The second level will be used for administrative space, but the entire addition will be connected to the current church, Bjorklund said.

The construction projects will cost an estimated $3 million, but when Orchard Hill breaks ground will be determined by funding availability and when the design is finalized, he said.

An interdenominational Christian church, Orchard Hill is considered a megachurch that is experiencing growth because of new residential growth in the North Hills and word-of-mouth referrals, he said.

“I would like to think that a lot of it is people having a good experience here in their own worship and growing their relationship with God, and then inviting other people to be a part of that,” he said.

In October, the church started holding additional services at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in the Cultural District. About 150 to 200 congregants were meeting there, but because of the Wilson center's financial woes — a conservator has recommended liquidating it — Orchard Hill was asked to relocate its services by Jan. 1.

The church's satellite services now are held at the Westin Convention Center hotel. Since a Downtown satellite location was added, church attendance has increased 8 percent, church administrative assistant Jackie Wick said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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