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Church plans new student ministry center
Blackshear Place Baptist Church administrator Christopher Martin stands in what will become the worship center at the former South Hall Community Center. The church plans to renovate the building and convert it into a student ministry center. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

OAKWOOD — An Atlanta Highway fixture, the old South Hall Community Center, could get an extreme makeover this year.

Blackshear Place Baptist Church, the building’s owner, has fixed its sights on the aging, faded blue metal and brick structure, hoping to transform it into a student ministry center.

“We will deliver progress, if not the project, in 2010,” said Jeff Crook, pastor of the church at the corner of Atlanta Highway and Mundy Mill Road. “We will begin this year. If (we’re) not in the center this year, we’ll be as soon as we can in 2011.”

Hall County Parks and Leisure Services operated out of the building for years, leasing it the past seven at no cost from neighboring Blackshear Place.

The county stopped operations there Nov. 4, opening the Mulberry Creek Community Center at 4491 JM Turk Road on Nov. 14.

“At first, we did not see clearly what we needed to use the building for,” said Crook, who has been pastor at the church for six years.

And then, in the past few years, the church has witnessed “explosive growth” in its numbers, particularly with young families, he said.

In a Sunday service drawing about 2,700 people, some 1,000 “represent 18 years old and younger,” Crook said. “That’s a significant amount.”

The church opened space for preschool-age and older children in 2008, quickly filling it up.

“As they go to the (teenage) student group, we need to make room for them,” Crook said. “So, this (new center) was like a natural step of progression for us.”

Crook said that when the church “shared its vision” of the center with members in October, “there was a lot of excitement,” particularly among older members.

“It really resonated with them,” he said. “They have supported it through financial gifts.

“And I think the older folks sense that the young generation is troubled, that they’ve lost their way and are messed up on so many addictions out there and need direction.”

Also, Crook added, young families “want a good place for their kids.”

Church members have pledged to contribute financially for a year to “see this vision become a reality.”

The project could cost between $2.5 million and $3.5 million.

“It’s yet to be determined exactly what it’s going to take to get in there,” Crook said.

One thing is for sure: The church isn’t planning to take out any bank loans.

“This is going to be a cash project,” Crook said.

Plans call for a 400-seat worship center featuring a stage, classrooms, a welcome area, vestibule and cafe.

“We want it to be a magnet for the community, a safe place to be,” Crook said. “We also have discussed offering tutoring in the afternoons to help kids in subjects they’re struggling with.”

Just like the community center, “we’ll have that building open every day,” he added.

The project could be pretty extensive.

“We’re going to ... gut the facility while keeping the concrete slab and steel framework,” said Christopher Martin, church administrator. “We’ll pretty much have the same shell of the (building)

“Whether we’ll keep the exterior, I don’t know yet at this point.”

Artist renderings provided by MNB Architects of Memphis, Tenn., show a facade of stacked-stone siding and columns, two rows of glass doors and stylish awnings.

Chestnut Mountain resident Teri Pope, who works with high school students along with husband Kenny, said they are excited the “church is focusing on students.”

“We are purposefully seeking to introduce students to the grace and forgiveness of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” she said. “... This new building will give us room to reach out to more students.”

The church has planned a breakfast Feb. 25 to show appreciation for area public officials.

“I’ll share with them about the student center ... and (say the church) views ourselves as partners in making a difference in Hall County and Northeast Georgia,” Crook said.

Beyond the student center, the church is working on a master plan to build out the campus by 2020.

“The next project on the horizon is a new worship center,” Crook said. “We’re not sure about the size, schedule and cost yet. But we know we have 3,000 worshippers on Sunday and our room can’t handle that.”

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