Church submits winning bid for former Booth Elementary School

07/31/2012 5:00 AM

08/01/2012 7:19 AM

Officials with Hope International Fellowship, a nondenominational Christian church, say they plan to “invest in the neighborhood” around the former Booth Elementary School after submitting the winning bid for the property Tuesday.

The church bid $83,000 for the school. The sale is contingent upon approval from the Wichita school board, which will meet Aug. 13.

Ed Belsan, senior pastor of Hope International, said he was “thrilled” with the prospect of moving the young church to a permanent location.

For about six years, members have been meeting in a gymnasium at Buckner Performing Arts Magnet Elementary, which the church rented on Sundays from the district.

“Now we’ll be able to own it 24/7 and develop a long-term relationship with the community,” Belsan said. “We want to be a great neighbor and be a positive influence.”

School district officials and several neighbors who attended the live auction Tuesday said they were pleased with the high bidder and its plans for the property.

“I think it will be fine,” said Pricilla Sexson, who lives across the street from Booth. She and her husband, Fred, have lived in the neighborhood 37 years.

“It’s kind of a relief,” Fred Sexson said. “You always wonder because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but this is good.”

Julie Hedrick, director of facilities for the Wichita district, said she was “very pleased” with the auction.

“I just think this was a great way to get a sale for this property. Potentially there’ll be another property that we’ll auction in the future,” she said.

The auction, conducted by John Rupp of J.P. Weigand & Sons, began tentatively. Rupp tried to start bidding at $50,000 but backed down to $5,000 before recording the first bid.

After about 15 minutes, bids rose to $50,000 and alternated between two bidders: the church and Rebecca George, a local educator who once operated the Khool School Academy of Performing Arts, a nondenominational Christian school, in the former South Hillside Elementary School.

George said she had envisioned starting another “learning center” in the former Booth school but was just outbid on Tuesday.

“Schools are hard to come by,” she said after the auction. “Obviously, there were other people today who had more money than I had to spend.”

Booth Elementary opened in 1954 and closed in 2003 when its students were moved to nearby Allen Elementary. Since then the district has used the building for storage. The 21,000-square-foot building and surrounding property, about 2.5 acres, are zoned single-family residential.

District officials and neighbors said they hoped a church or other nonprofit would consider buying the school.

Mark Springs, a church elder who handled the bidding on Tuesday, said “a lot of prayer” went into the potential purchase. The church has about 70 to 100 members.

He said he expected the property to cost between $60,000 and $85,000. “Everything pretty much went the way we wanted it to,” Springs said.

“We want to have a church that’s interracial and welcomes everyone, so we were focusing on a neighborhood with a large mix” of races, he said. “This is very exciting.”

Tom Brown, another church member, said he looks forward to “investing back into the neighborhood and hopefully meeting some of the needs in the area.

“We just really look forward to meeting the community and having a great time here in this building.”

As church leaders left the school, neighbor Pricilla Sexson reached out to shake Springs’ hand and said, “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

“Thank you,” Springs said. “We’ll be good neighbors.”

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