published Monday, August 25th, 2014

Calvary Chapel Chattanooga hopes to refurbish Piney Woods Elementary School

Seen in this file photograph from February, the former Piney Woods Elementary School building is located at 701 Hooker Road.
Seen in this file photograph from February, the former Piney Woods Elementary School building is located at 701 Hooker Road.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Calvary Chapel Chattanooga, a booming, 2,500-member church in a former Bi-Lo supermarket on South Broad Street, may get more parking space. And its neighbor, Church of the First Born, may get a new home in the former Piney Woods Elementary School.

That could result from a tentative deal for Calvary Chapel to buy the Alton Park school for $25,000. The deal got the Hamilton County Board of Education’s blessing Thursday night by a 6-2 vote.

Calvary Chapel proposes to raise between $400,000 and $500,000 to repair, remodel and repurpose the school that was built in 1963 and hasn’t been used as a school for a decade.

Then Calvary would give the old school to Church of the First Born, which would give Calvary its South Broad Street building, Calvary Chapel Administrator Taylor Bowers said.

The two churches share parking space now.

“Them being able to move might free up some parking,” Bowers said. “We’re looking for a solution to help us both grow.”

It all hinges on Church of the First Born agreeing to move, he said.

“If all that doesn’t work out, then we’ll relinquish it back to the Board of Education,” Bowers said.

Church of the First Born Pastor Alfred Johnson didn’t return a call Friday afternoon seeking comment.

Calvary Chapel’s proposal to the school district called for turning Piney Woods School into a facility that will serve as a faith-based center for community life in Alton Park, with special attention to the families and children living in Emma Wheeler Homes.

Kara Aikens runs Wow Kids, a faith-based Saturday program of kids’ activities in the recreation center at the Emma Wheeler public housing complex. She’d like to move the Saturday program and a tutoring program into Piney Woods.

“I’m glad that someone who works well with other people in the community has the building,” Aikens said of Calvary Chapel’s acquisition.

The school board rejected a competing proposal for the old school building from the Alton Park Development Corp. It wanted to buy the school for $1 for such uses as a nonprofit supermarket offering staple foods, a thrift and consignment store, a police substation and vocational classes.

“We were going to create a safe and secure environment for the people of Alton Park and Piney Woods,” said attorney Jeff Wolford, who pitched the idea to the school board at an Aug. 13 work session. Former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, an elder at Calvary Chapel, helped make the church’s proposal that night.

School board member Joe Galloway said Thursday that Calvary Chapel might be able to work with the development company to reach some of its goals at Piney Woods.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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