February 1, 2010 - Palm Beach Daily News

Sea Gull Cottage Observes ‘New Day’

Following a spirited and often humorous sermon by the Rev. Tom Tewell, the congregation of the Royal Poinciana Chapel filed out to the strains of God Bless America and into the parking lot for the dedication of the renovated Sea Gull Cottage.

While the sky threatened rain, a sizable crowd turned out to celebrate the culmination of two years of work on the former Palm Beach home of Henry Flagler that converted the space into a learning center for the chapel. “Today we mark a new day in a wonderful journey of faith,” said Michael L. Ainslie, chapel board president. He went on to tell the crowd, "Sea Gull Cottage becomes the backdrop for the chapel's education programs."

Chapel pastor the Rev. Robert Norris agreed. “It feels like all that we have been dreaming about to reach the children and adults with spiritual development has come to fruition.”
During his sermon, Tewell lauded the chapel's board for supporting the cottage's renovation. “I have great respect for your pastor and board. They marched off the map when they attempted to renovate Sea Gull Cottage. The board had a vision.”

The cottage's new mission is to house the cottage's teaching programs. “It's to be used as a teaching tool. Rather than a monument to the past, it's a movement of people to the future,” said Norris.

Valerie Tatalovich, of Valerie M. Interiors, was energized after seeing the cottage's teaching mission in action. “I had the opportunity to be present at the first class of Sunday school. I cried when they walked in. ... When they ran upstairs, when they nestled into their classrooms. That was the defining moment for me.”

It was a special day for Kathleen Owens as well. Owens has been a Sunday school teacher at Royal Poinciana Chapel for five years and a member of its congregation for 10. She teaches third- to sixth-grade students in the cottage. “I enjoy kids. We don't give them enough time and attention. This is an investment in our future.”

It was also an investment in the community. Those in attendance, both on and off the podium, included Palm Beach Town Council members Gail Coniglio and Bill Diamond. Speaking to the town's involvement, Diamond said, “I think we've got something excellent here for the town.”
“This is preservation at its very best,” said John Mashek of the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach. “This is an adaptive reuse and a sensitive addition.”

“This is a community program that has been embraced for the preservation, and for the preparation for many generations,” said Coniglio. “It's an honor and a privilege to celebrate such a magnificent undertaking.”

According to Calvin Campbell, the general contractor monitoring the project, the end result wasn't always clearly in view. “In the beginning, it was difficult to foresee the wonderful outcome we have today. The contractor and the architect did a wonderful job of matching and adding onto one of the most historic buildings in Palm Beach.”

But the most important aspect, according to Tatalovich, is that group of people the renovation was meant to serve. “It is the children who breathe life into the cottage. They are our future.”
As Tewell pointed out in his sermon, “Someday, the children will say they went to Sunday school at Sea Gull Cottage.”

Christopher C. Paine, Daily News Staff Writer

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