Volunteers Eric Granahan, from left, Brian Henry and Ken Schlitter work in the future activities room of the Agape House boys school. (Photo by Chris Schultz/Regional News)

WALWORTH — Agape House’s school for boys still needs work to comply with village building codes, but the school already has its first student.

The student, a junior from Round Lake, Illinois, is taking classes in the basement classroom of the former church at 119 Phillips Ave.

But the interior will need some big changes before students can board there during the school year.

Plans call for a dormitory able to sleep eight boys ages 12 to 16. House parents will have their own apartment in the building.

Around the classroom, workers are installing sprinkler systems, wiring and plumbing and hanging drywall.

Most of those workers are volunteers from area churches that have adopted Agape House.

Pam Patterson, director of Agape House, said she had hoped to have the school completed by now. But because the former church changed its use from a gathering place to a residence, there were building code changes that caught Patterson and Agape House staff by surprise.

Patterson said she had originally estimated that the repairs and renovations would cost between $50,000 and $60,000.

But the school learned it had to install a larger water connection to the village main.

She said the building has to be completely sprinklered for fire suppression.

On May 18, the former church building was filled with the sounds of hammers and saws, as 11 volunteers from First Christian Church in Kenosha put up siding outdoors and worked at converting church restrooms into bathrooms that comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. Floors and drains will have to be reconfigured to accommodate walk-in showers.

Volunteer Brian Hauser was in the basement of the former church, using a sledge hammer to pound down a stubborn piece of conduit that was sticking out of a concrete floor in a restroom waiting to be converted to ADA compliance. By his count, this was his third or fourth visit to the school to help with remodeling work.

“It’s fun,” he said after the conduit succumbed to repeated blows from the sledge and finally snapped off at the floor line.

His son, John Hauser, 17, was also among the volunteers. John said it was his second time working at the church with his dad.

Mika Kerr of Antioch organized the volunteer effort. Kerr said his daughter attended Agape House, and he wanted to help the school.

Kerr said volunteers from First Christian also help out with projects on the girls school a half-block away at 215 Main St.

Helping out the volunteers were Ben Patterson, Pam Patterson’s husband, and Pam’s father, Bob Milliman.

Brooklife Church in Mukwonago, with 1,000 congregants, sends out up to 40 volunteers every month to help with maintenance and the work at the boys school, said Harry Spalding, the church’s outreach director. BrookLife is about 40 miles from Agape House.

Agape House was put to the congregation as a possible project the church could support.

“What they were doing rang true to us,” Spalding said. “We have volunteers with construction experience who help out.”

Most of the work involves hanging drywall, although the church has sent out one or two electricians to work on the wiring.

Tim Yorgey, family pastor at Calvary Community Church in Williams Bay, said the church has supported Agape House for many years.

He said the church sends over volunteers from its men’s ministry group at least once a month to help out. Numbers vary from four or five to 10 or 12, Yorgey said. It depends on the kind of work that needs to be done.

“If it’s clean up, we can get a larger group,” he said. “When it’s skilled work, it’s harder to come up with the numbers.”

Joe Zimmer, a Lake Geneva architect, has worked with the Pattersons on the Agape House boys school since September 2018. He was instrumental in pointing out the additional work that had to go into the building before it could be used as a boarding school.

Building codes have changed since the girls school was opened in 2006, he said.

The boys school received zoning approval from the village last year. But getting zoning approval is not the same as an occupancy permit, Zimmer said.

As a church, the building only needed a pull fire alarm.

Now, because people will be sleeping in the building, the building will also require smoke alarms that are connected to the fire alarm system, Zimmer said.

And because it is a boarding school, the entire school building must have fire sprinklers.

The sprinklers required an increase in water service. The one-inch lateral from the village main to the building had to be replaced with a three-inch lateral.

Pam Patterson said she’s looking for additional volunteers, particularly those with painting and construction experience, to help with the construction. She said she is also seeking future school staff.

“We’d love to find a couple who would move in and be house parents,” she said.

Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.