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posted: 7/6/2013 8:00 AM

Saving Baptist church in Batavia looking less likely

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  • The former First Baptist Church in Batavia. An open house is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 30, as the city council decides the fate of the building.

      The former First Baptist Church in Batavia. An open house is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 30, as the city council decides the fate of the building.
    Daily Herald file photo, 2008

  • Should Batavia decide to tear down the former First Baptist Church, the congregation that used to meet there has first dibs on retaining the stained-glass windows, according to Mayor Jeff Schielke. The congregation moved out in 2008 to the Mill Creek subdivision, and changed its name to Faith Baptist Church.

      Should Batavia decide to tear down the former First Baptist Church, the congregation that used to meet there has first dibs on retaining the stained-glass windows, according to Mayor Jeff Schielke. The congregation moved out in 2008 to the Mill Creek subdivision, and changed its name to Faith Baptist Church.
    Daily Herald file photo, 2008

 
 

Anybody who thinks the former First Baptist Church sanctuary in Batavia ought to be preserved should probably speak up now and be prepared to back up that opinion with their checkbook.

Batavia aldermen, discussing the building and others on its campus, seem disinclined to spend any city money on reroofing and shoring up the building, which the city owns. Especially since it wants to sell the property and doesn't know if a private developer would want to keep the building.

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"I don't think given all the things on our plate ... we are not in a financial position to do anything, like restoring or razzle-dazzle," Mayor Jeff Schielke said. "We should sell it and be done with it."

The discussion came as the city staff asked aldermen what they want to put in a request for proposals for the property at Washington and Wilson streets. Alderman Kyle Hohmann suggested requesting that any private developer save the church and pay for stabilizing it.

But Alderman Susan Stark was skeptical about success with that.

"How long has it been sitting that we have owned it, that nobody has come knocking?" she said.

The city has owned the property since 2006 and the congregation moved out in 2008. The state contemplated using part of the property at one time to reroute a jog in Route 25.

Besides the 1889 sanctuary, the property includes office and classroom additions, one built in the 1930s and one in 1959. Both need major repairs and upgrades for accessibility and fire safety if they were to be kept. Fixing just roofs and windows has been estimated at $775,000; total repairs and upgrades, $3.5 million, according to a consultant's report. Engineers cautioned that no large groups should be allowed in the sanctuary, because the support girder for the floor is cracked.

Demolition of all three buildings is estimated at $146,250, not including removal of piles, caissons or utility lines.

Alderman Dawn Clark suggested giving public tours of the building, to explain the city's position.

"If we do something, they (residents) are going to scream at us after we have made our decision," she said.

An open house is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 30.

Alderman Michael O'Brien said he was concerned about tearing down yet another historical building in the downtown. But Schielke, who has written books on local history, compared the situation to when the council allowed the old Batavia High School building at Wilson and Batavia Avenue to be torn down, to make way for a new library. There was quite an outcry about that.

"I don't apologize to anybody for being part of the group that tore down the old Batavia High School. (People talked about) desecration of history and ruining remembrance of their high school days. But you go into the library up there today and there's a thousand people a day using it.

"But on the same token I think you have to be judicious and say, 'What are you really going to do here with this thing?'"

Schielke also said the church's parking lot has proved valuable to downtown businesses, particularly those on North River Street.

Alderman Drew McFadden said churches are "notoriously hard to adapt and reuse," which would decrease the pool of potential buyers. The Batavia Park District uses the former Holy Cross Catholic Church -- which is a block away -- as a community center. Private offices are in a former church at Lincoln and Houston streets.

The city has a 2009 study on file suggesting mixed-use redevelopment of the site.

O'Brien asked Alderman Steve Vasilion about the building's historical value, since Vasilion is a former member of the Historic Preservation Commission. Vasilion declined to participate in the discussion, however, because he does architectural work for a potential buyer, Batavia Enterprises.

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