Professor shares vision for former church


Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

Despite a seemingly endless vacancy, the former St. Thomas More Catholic Church now booms with the sound of carpenters and workmen. The most prominent of these voices is that of Dennis Bielfeldt, who along with his wife, Darla Bielfeldt, bought the property from the Roman Catholic Church.

To keep the property from being tore down, the Bielfeldts are modifying the sanctuary, rectory, and education center into a community center, upscale apartments, and an office building.

“Frankly a lot of this is in the dream stage,” Dennis Bielfeldt says, in the midst of the cavernous former sanctuary. His voice echoes through the hall, bouncing over the brand new carpeting and slamming against the newly mended roof.

“I love old buildings,” Bielfeldt explains. The church was built in 1952, with the rectory and education wing built later.

“If this church hadn’t found a buyer, they may have had to knock it down.” he said. Instead of being destroyed, this orphaned church building has found new owners and will soon house a new community.

A love of old architecture wasn’t the only thing driving this project. The Bielfeldts saw a need in Brookings for a community center which will be in the same area as the former sanctuary.

Bielfeldt said he thinks that the new community center will be especially useful for formal occasions. Lectures, community theatre, political rallies, weddings, receptions, worship services and any number of other activities could be held in the former sanctuary.

“It’s the ambience and the beauty of the place, its not a room, its a hall. There’s a difference,” he said.

Though many of these same activities could be held on the SDSU campus, Dennis Bielfeldt said he thought that residents of Brookings and also those affiliated with SDSU should have a place where they could come together on projects.

“There are a lot of good things that happen at South Dakota State, but residents [of Brookings] don’t seem to find their way there,” he said.

Bielfeldt said he envisions the new community center to be an intersection point between the campus and rest of the Brookings community.

“Our main goal is not to go into competition with anyone else,” he said.

Instead, they wanted to provide Brookings residents with more options.

Besides the meeting hall, these options will include low-priced office space for non-profit organizations.

The office space is housed in the old education center of the church complex. Eight of the offices will be about 475 sq. ft., with two larger offices of about 960 sq. ft. and one joint conference room of 600 sq. ft.

The Bielfeldts intend to rent both the community center and the office space at a reduced cost to non-profit organizations.

The office space should be ready for use in January, with the community center nearing completion in February. Work will not start on the apartments until this spring. Bielfeldt said he wants to have them done next fall.

The first community event to take place will be the Brown Bag Lunch Series, hosted by the Agricultural Heritage Museum.

The first lecture will take place at noon, on January 31st in the old sanctuary.

The bring-your-own-lunch lecture will feature Dave Huebner, a Bushnell artist, who is scheduled to speak about the uniforms and equipment used by the Lewis and Clark expedition. The event is free to the public.

“Things that are good for the community, that’s what we’re interested in,” Bielfeldt said.

#1.887674:269585066.jpg:Bielfeldt.jpg:SDSU professor and Brookings developer Dennis Bielfeldt stands in front of the former St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church he plans to convert into a community center, upscale apartments and office space. The new facility will host its first event January 31 with an Agricultural Heritage Museum-hosted Brown Bag Lunch.: