It took a month for Starkville Korean Church parishioners to scrape the wax off the floor of an old candle factory in 1992 before it could hold worship service in the iconic brick building bearing its name on Lafayette Street.
Sungkwang Mun, a member of SKC since 2006, wasn’t around for that transition. He will be involved in the church’s next one.
SKC is moving to the former Oktibbeha Family Medical Center building on Felix Long Drive, a few blocks west of its current downtown location. Renovations to convert the old clinic to a church are underway, and the church is hoping to begin services there in spring 2023.
“We’ve been waiting for the opportunity (to move buildings),” Mun said. “… We’re excited to move to the new building and have the space to help our congregation’s needs.”
The move represents the third location for SKC, a Presbyteran church, since a group of seven Korean students from Mississippi State University began meeting 40 years ago at what was then Calvary Baptist Church on North Jackson Street.
“(They) started gathering officially … on Nov. 13, 1983, so it was exactly 40 years last Sunday,” Mun said. “… We celebrated 40 years of service last Saturday and Sunday with many previous members. Considering that the history of Christianity in Korea is 140 years, it is a relatively long time. Undoubtedly, Christianity, especially in the Starkville area, has influenced and encouraged the Starkville Korean Church over the course of history.”
With the church now pushing 40 members, and the 100-year-old building on Lafayette showing its age, upkeep and maintenance costs have become expensive, Mun said. Plus the property lacks room for a needed playground.
The church began looking for a new location with more room and lower upkeep costs. That’s where Mark and Luke Castleberry, of Castle Properties, came in.
The father-son duo were eyeing the Lafayette Street property and approached the SKC leadership about acquiring the building, but the church needed a new building to move into. The Castleberrys searched the area for potential buildings and eventually landed on the Felix Long location, which they bought and began remodeling.
Once the remodel is complete, the SKC congregation will move to the Felix Long building, and the Castleberrys will get the Lafayette building in return. They intend to bring back the interior to its original form — an old car dealership. Then they will market the building for a commercial tenant.
“Once they move in, we’re going to have their old congregational building gutted,” Luke Castleberry said. “We’re going to take it all the way back to the historical framework, which will be kind of cool. … If you go inside their old congregation, you can see where you used to be able to drive a car, and that’s where they did their oil changes and all of that.”
In the meantime, the Castleberrys have gutted the Felix Long building for its conversion to a church. The remodel will include a vaulted-ceiling sanctuary to fit the congregation, offices, small group study rooms, a nursery and a room for its Korean language school, for which Pastor In-Sung Hoang is principal.
The language school serves roughly 10 students each Saturday. Church members from middle school and up volunteer to teach Korean in this class, and students also learn about traditional Korean music. The middle school students teach the younger children who aren’t yet ready to learn sentence structure, Mun said.
The church renovation project got the greenlight from city aldermen last week, when they approved a special exception for a place of worship to be in a traditional neighborhood. They also restricted the church from adding more than 1,000 square feet of impervious surface (such as asphalt or concrete for parking) to the site.
The Castleberrys also plan to address some stormwater runoff issues at the property, which sits downhill from the old county hospital. Homes sit downhill from the new SKC building.
“The city engineer is looking at some things for stormwater for us in lieu of the homeowners (in the property’s range) asking us to do it,” Luke Castleberry said. “The city kind of stepped in just because there is a greater problem of us catching the county’s water from the old hospital because everything runs downhill. That’s the big problem. We can mitigate, but we don’t own that land so there’s only so much we can do.”
Other Castle preservation projects
Castle Properties have tackled various historical preservation projects in Starkville such as the renovations and restoration of The Mill at MSU Conference Center and the Rex Theatre in downtown Starkville.
The Rex renovation, completed in 2021, was a $1.4 million project, and the building is now home to Glo, which produces toys and light-up cubes activated by water. Originally built in 1931, the Rex held theater productions and eventually movies before closing in the 1960s.
“I think there’s a character of a historical building that is almost impossible to replicate in new construction,” Mark Castleberry said. “Luke and I both love history. We’re just big history nerds, and I guess we turned that way because we enjoy history and learning about a building and its previous users.”
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