District 7 OKs controversial plan to demolish church

News-DemocratApril 14, 2014 

— The District 7 board settled the issue of the church land purchase with little fanfare, unanimously approving the deal at its meeting Monday.

Edwardsville District 7 will pay First Presbyterian Church of Edwardsville $1.3 million over a 10-year period, or $130,000 a year interest-free, for its land, church and parsonage. While the appraisal for the church and parsonage was about $725,000, the remainder will cover the cost for demolition, asbestos removal, fill and leveling, which the church will do before turning a "clean and level site" over to the district.

According to the deal, district officials will meet with Edwardsville city officials regarding zoning, variances and permits for its planned development before deconstruction of the old church takes place.

The deal spurred some controversy in recent weeks, as neighbors and church members protested the plan to demolish the church. First Presbyterian has stood in a historic neighborhood of Edwardsville since 1923, and its next-door neighbor is Columbus School, which has been in use since 1886. Columbus has only 19 parking spaces for 45 employees, and for many years the church has allowed the school to use its parking lot for parking and dropoff and pickup of students.

First Presbyterian is planning to move its congregation to a new building on Ridgeview Road, and recently voted in favor of selling the old church property to the school district.

But residents said they were concerned for the atmosphere and attractiveness of their neighborhood, green space and the possible rerouting of their streets around the school and church area.

However, no residents or parents spoke against the purchase at the District 7 school board meeting, and the vote took place without much discussion. One resident asked to look at the land purchase contract, and Superintendent Ed Hightower said it would be available for public viewing at a later date.

School board member Brad Hewitt said the plan was "a monumental improvement to the safety of our students and staff."

The church will not be coming down immediately; Pastor John Hembruch has said they will need to sell some of the 29 acres the church owns on Ridgeview before constructing their new building. He also said the church intends to take as much of the old building with them as possible: they plan to bring the organ, art glass windows, cornerstones and any other architectural element for which a place can be found in the new design.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 618-239-2507.

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