Armed with shovels and party poppers, members of the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church broke ground Sunday for a new meeting facility.

The event marked a major milestone on a journey that began March 7, 2004, when the congregation’s facility at Washington and Grand streets was destroyed by fire.

Prior to gathering Sunday at the new location at Prairie Pointe and C streets on the city’s east edge, the congregation met for worship at its adopted home: the Hillsboro High School gymnasium, which was decorated with helium-filled balloon.

During that gathering, pastor Bruce Porter spoke on the topic “A Time to Build,” incorporating into his message a review of the rebuilding process by Don Ratzlaff, church moderator, and an update on finances by Jack Braun, a member of the capital campaign committee.

At the site, members gathered at the future entrance of the 40,000-square-foot building, which was outlined in the open field with powdered chalk.

Members of the congregation’s nine-member planning committee turned over the first shovelfuls of dirt.

Darrell Driggers, who emceed the ceremony, is chairman of the committee. The other members are Brad Bartel, John Dick, Delora Kaufman, Ron Hiebert, Bruce Porter, Don Ratzlaff, James Thomas and Brad Vogel.

Following words of congratulations and encouragement from contractor Mark Hutton of Hutton Construction, architect David Riffel of Howard & Helmer Architects, and denominational district minister Tim Sullivan, Porter lead in a prayer of dedication.

Upon its conclusion, attenders fired off their party poppers, then used their own shovels to turn more dirt as attenders took their place around the perimeter of the future building.

According to Driggers, work on the $5.2 million project could begin this week, weather permitting. Hutton Construction is anticipating the completion of the project by the first week of April 2007.

In addition to the construction of a ministry center on an 11-acre campus, the project has a 5.6-acre residential component that will be developed by Marv Schellenberg, a Hillsboro native and former HMBC member who has developed severalprojects in Wichita.

The residential project will be developed in two phases. The first phase will be near C Street along an extension of Prairie Pointe Street.

The second phase, to commence once Phase 1 is 80 percent developed, will extend Prairie Pointe Street all the way north to A Street.

In all, 14 resident residential lots have been platted for development.

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