At least 100 people poked around the former First Baptist Church of Batavia during a city-sponsored open house Tuesday related to the fate of its three buildings.
Many of them had attended church in the building before the congregation moved in 2008 to a new building in the Mill Creek subdivision west of town and renamed itself Faith Baptist.
The city, which owns the church, is considering whether to save all of it, tear down all of it or save just the sanctuary, which was built in 1889. The campus, at Washington (Route 25) and Wilson streets, needs much repair and remodeling to make it fully accessible if the sanctuary and two additions are to be reused.
A consultant's report estimated the cost of the work, including shoring up the foundation and a main support beam for the sanctuary, at $3.5 million. Doing just roof and window repairs to stop water infiltration would likely cost $775,000.
City workers Tuesday counted how many people entered the sanctuary at a time, fearing a large crowd would be too much for the cracked beam to bear.
There were mixed feelings among the former church members, but more than one could be heard saying they didn't mind so much if the additions, built in the 1930s and the 1950s, were knocked down.
But member Sherry Kibling Kenneavy, who is the third generation of her family to belong to the congregation, felt it was OK to let the sanctuary go. "God left with us," she said.
Her husband, the Rev. Richard Kenneavy, recalled being married there, then baptized 23 years later. He also recalled that because the church had no air conditioning, windows were open on Sunday mornings.
"There would be some convertible (at the corner traffic light) playing 'Little Deuce Coupe' while we were trying to pray," he said.
The multiple levels and lack of an elevator played into the decision to build elsewhere as the members got older, he said. Installing an elevator would have cost so much it would have bumped the church over the building-remodel dollar threshold at which fire-suppression sprinkler installation would also be required by the city, he said. The church also received a land donation from the Mill Creek developer.
Kicking the tires?
Gerard Dempsey, chairman and chief executive officer of Batavia Enterprises Inc., said it was his first time in the building and that he never knew the property was for sale.
"Very, very interesting," he said of the sanctuary. He said the property's location at a busy intersection at the entrance to downtown was a plus. Asked if BEI was interested in purchasing the building, he demurred, "We're interested in all buildings," he said. BEI develops and manages properties throughout the Tri-Cities and has repurposed several schools and churches, including two in Batavia. BEI President Dan Stellato also toured the building.
The city commissioned a study in 2009 outlining what could be developed on the property, with and without the buildings.
Mayor Jeff Schielke said no date has been set for the council to revisit the issue and that the building likely will be used again this year for the Batavia ACCESS toy giveaway in December.