into new facility today
Lee University is shuffling offices and personnel to make use of the First Baptist Church now that Waterville Baptist Church has moved into its new sanctuary at 3722 Dalton Pike S.E.
The appearance of the old First Baptist Church at 340 Church St. N.E. will be different as it is converted from a house consecrated to the worship of God to a house devoted to music education, early childhood education, an inclusive classroom for autistic children, and long-distance education.
The properties have been designated as Parker Street Annex, Church Street Annex and Ocoee Street Annex. The buildings may or may not be renamed again in the future to reflect their usages.
“We’ve enjoyed hosting Waterville Baptist Church during the past two years,” Dr. Paul Conn said in a recent interview. “We are now going to move to adapt that space and integrate into our campus operation.”
The interior of the old sanctuary in the Church Street Annex will be slightly altered. The most evident change will be removing the steeple and replacing it with a cupola matching those adorning the other academic buildings around campus. The Church Street Annex will join the Conn Center and Dixon Center as a meeting and musical venue.
“Our choirs love to sing over there. Our instrumental groups love to play there. That will become the regular rehearsal venue for some of our campus groups, the Lee Singers being one of them starting with the fall semester,” Conn said. “What that leaves is the linear part of the building that runs along Central Avenue between Church and Parker. We have some competing ideas for the usage of that. We’ll develop that into some academic unit next year.”
The university had already occupied the Christian education center in the Parker Street Annex and converted it into a child-care center licensed by the state for up to 70 children. Lee University Developmental Inclusion Classroom also relocated to Parker Street from the Mayfield Annex.
The university’s Internet and distance learning programs were moved from the Watkins Building to the Ocoee Street Annex where the church’s pastoral and administrative offices were located. The Watkins Building will become the counseling center that was located on Billy Graham Avenue next to the Science and Math Complex.
“Our move now is to take the Ocoee Street Annex, refurbish and renovate it and establishing a new division of adult learning,” he said.
“All of our staff is moving down there. That will empty out the Watkins Building at the corner of Church and 8th streets. The Watkins Building will become our counseling center.”
In June 2010, First Baptist Church and Lee University officials announced the school had agreed to pay $5 million for the 95,000-square-foot sanctuary and Christian education building, 35,000-square-foot retail building on Ocoee Street that was converted into church administrative and pastoral offices. As a condition of the sale, the church was allowed two years to move its administrative and pastoral offices from downtown to its new location at 1275 Stuart Road N.E. The transaction included 13 random parcels of property between Lee University and First Baptist Church.
At about that same time, the Waterville church’s 15-year building plan was abruptly shortened to 24 months when a sinkhole developed on the southern edge of the church parking lot. The sinkhole, as it turned out, was the septic tank everyone believed was located under the parking lot 75 yards closer to the sanctuary.
Finding the septic tank changed everything. Up until that point, the Tennessee Department of Transportation was only taking a portion of church property to widen Dalton Pike. Under that circumstance, the sanctuary and education center would have remained intact. It would have been a struggle to park all the churchgoers in the smaller parking lot, but it was a small inconvenience and the 15-year plan was workable.
Fortunately, Waterville Baptist Church purchased 100 acres south of its current location in 2007. It didn’t want or need that much property, but there was not much land available between its current location and Walmart South.
Unfortunately, the congregation was forced to vacate its premises by Dec. 11, 2010, with no place to hold worship services until its new worship center was built. The church held its last service on Oct. 30, 2010, and accepted Lee University’s offer of the First Baptist Church.
The Waterville congregation worshipped for the final time in its temporary home on July 1. Senior Pastor Allan Lovelace spoke during his sermon of acceptance and what it means for denominations to work together in communities to honor the name of Jesus.
“There’s no greater community to point to than Cleveland and Bradley County. It’s not only the many places of worship in our county, or the fine university in our city with a biblical foundation, but the way the salt and light is scattered all across this county from civil leadership to civil servants, to educators and administrators, and the wonderful local businesses and business people that truly allow this community to garner God’s favor and hand of blessing,” he said.
“Together with Lee University, we represent a great application to these verses. Who would have ever guessed FBC’s relocation, plus Lee University’s purchase of this property, would have ever equaled divine providence for Waterville Baptist Church.”
He said the church was going to be homeless after 60 years. The clock was ticking. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation condemned the church property the day road graders ripped through the acre of land to widen Dalton Pike.
“And here we are today after 62 years, ready to move into our new facilities back in the Waterville Community. This 21-month bridge was made available by the vision and grace of fellow servants who desired to honor the name of Jesus. Lee University allowed us to be part of their extended family and this chapter in the history of the Waterville family of faith has truly been miraculous,” he said.
Dr. Jerome Hammond, vice president for University Relations, who spoke on behalf of Conn, relayed their admiration of the congregation.
“We have built enough buildings to know how hard it is to do what you’ve done in the time that you’ve done it,” Dr. Hammond said.
One of the reasons Cleveland and Bradley County are special is “we know how to work. We don’t set around and say ‘God is our God and he’s going to do it’ — it’s like my dad use to say, ‘If your boat gets a hole in the side of it, you do two things: you pray to heaven and row toward the shore.’
“You’ve been rowing toward the shore and we stand in admiration.”