For decades, the former Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Hastings didn't get much attention, as it sat empty or served as a rental space. However, in the few months since Sarah and Travis Lockwood bought the building at the end of December, it has undergone a flurry of activity.

Contractors fixed the leaky roof, redid the flooring, and tore down a wall to open up the space. They built out the stage in the sanctuary for performances and created several soundproof studios, as the site is now the home of a new music and arts center.

"I think the work will never be done," said Sarah Lockwood, "but it will be a labor of love."

Last weekend, the public attended the grand opening of the new Hastings Arts Center, celebrated with performances and activities.

The Lockwoods have been Hastings residents for the past 10 years: Sarah has taught piano, violin and viola, and Travis, a physician, is also a musician.

A couple of years ago, Sarah Lockwood started the strings group Ponticelli with the goal of getting lapsed musicians playing again. Margaret Cox, who plays cello in the group, said they started meeting at the arts center for practices even during construction.

"Sometimes, there'd be lots of noises in the background," she joked.

Lockwood had been eyeing the 1868 church as a possible conservatory for years, ever since she first saw it go on the market in 2007.

The church served the community's Irish Catholic population until it merged with the St. Boniface church, which served German Catholics, in 1995. Since then, the 8,400-square foot space was leased for a time as a dance studio as well as an art studio. A couple of different churches rented it. It sat empty for periods of time.

The Lockwoods bought the church for $175,000 and ended up putting the same amount into the renovation, although a $42,000 deferred, low-interest loan from the city's redevelopment authority helped ease the cost of construction.

"We're super excited about this," said Nathan Griner, a local musician who plans to teach guitar at the arts center. "It's exactly what this town needs."

Sarah Lockwood and other music teachers will offer instruction in string and wind instruments — including bagpipes — as well as piano, jazz organ and voice. They also plan to rent out studio and performance space.

"These old churches with their high ceilings, the acoustics are so wonderful," said Pat Dymacek, a local piano instructor. "When she gets a grand piano, we're going to be here with our recitals."

Lockwood agreed that the acoustics in the sanctuary, with those high ceilings and tall stained-glass windows, were "quite heavenly," though she thinks they might make some changes to reduce reverb, perhaps by putting up sound panels.

The center also will hold some visual art classes and will feature art exhibits. The artwork, said Lockwood, will likely change out every couple months.

"I'm so thrilled for Sarah," said local artist Mecca Page, who helped curate the current exhibit of paintings and sculptures by 19 local artists. "I think it's another example of the perfect storm that's happening in Hastings with all the arts."

"It's beautiful," said Margaret Goderstad, a volunteer at the opening. "Nothing like an old church to bring us together."

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. Her e-mail is