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By Traci Chapman
In September, First Baptist Church members will move their services out of their Bickford Avenue sanctuary, after almost 90 years of worship at the site.
FBC Pastor Charlie Blount and El Reno Public Schools Superintendent Craig McVay met Monday to discuss the sale of the church’s property to the district, as part of the $45.3 million bond issue passed Jan. 8 by voters. As part of that plan, the church’s sanctuary will be torn down to make way for new buildings that will become part of the district’s downtown complex. A science and math wing is slated for the site, as well as providing extra space for the district’s expected growth, officials said.
School board president Steven Jensen said earlier this month the choice to tear down the church was necessary because the 1920’s era building has several issues, including possible asbestos, narrow hallways and no way to practically make the structure compliant for disabled students and others. Blount agreed.
“That was one of the reasons why we looked elsewhere for a location – it just wasn’t feasible to do the work at this site,” he said.
El Reno schools purchased the FBC site for $415,000, following the church’s own investment in a site adjacent to the city’s Public Safety Center on S.W. 27th Street. FBC will move its services to El Reno High School’s auditorium beginning Sept. 15, with the district expected to take formal possession of the FBC property Oct. 1, Blount and McVay said.
It is unclear how long the church will remain in temporary housing, Blount said. Plans are under way for its new sanctuary and complex, but there is no timeline at this point, he said.
Even with that uncertainty, church members are “completely behind” the sale of the property to the school district, Blount said. The ease in working with school officials and others made the transition that much easier, he said.
“It’s really gratifying that the property where our sanctuary once sat could be utilized for our children and community,” Blount said.
The sale was an illustration of a partnership that has extended throughout El Reno, McVay said, something that was, in itself, exemplified by the margin in which the bond issue was passed.
“I still call it historic, it’s amazing to me that the community came together and passed this by 73 percent of the vote,” he said. “That shows a lot about El Reno, I think.”
Work on other aspects of the bond issue has already begun, McVay said. Meetings have been held concerning the purchase of buses and work to be done at school sites across the district, with El Reno’s maintenance director Jeff Johnson a key player, the superintendent said.
“The logistics from our side has been great – he (Jeff) already had a plan in place,” McVay said.
When construction on the bond issue is complete, a third- and fourth-grade center will stand adjacent to Roblyer Middle School, while Rose Witcher and Hillcrest elementary schools will have secure entrances and more classrooms. Roblyer – which will be converted into a fifth- and sixth-grade center – Etta Dale Junior High School and EHS will also have more classrooms, and air conditioning will also be added to the combination cafeteria/gyms at Rose Witcher and Hillcrest.a’>Funding for the renovations – which will be completed in-house by Dan Jackson and inmate labor – is expected to run between $50,000 and $75,000, Edwards said. While county general funds were used to purchase the building, sheriff’s fees generated through tickets, seizures and other items will pay for the renovation, he said.