Tennessee Temple eyes move by fall 2014

photo Dr. Steven Echols, President of Tennessee Temple University

A recent memorandum of understanding between Tennessee Temple University and Woodland Park Baptist Church indicates the school could begin holding classes at the Tyner church as early as fall 2014.

"We believe it's favorable," said Dr. Steve Echols, president of the university.

Tennessee Temple announced in mid-September it was exploring options to leave its Highland Park home, which it has occupied since opening in 1946, for larger and more flexible quarters and a church partner.

Echols said university and church officials hope to bring a formal document to the congregation by the end of this year.

Such a document would include how much space Tennessee Temple might use inside the church, what initial other buildings might be built, whether the property will be leased or purchased, and other details.

Some of those details also hinge on how soon the school is able to sell the remainder of its Highland Park property, Echols said. Two parcels outside the school's core 21 acres recently were sold to the Maclellan Foundation, he said.

David Denmark, executive director of the Maclellan Foundation, said in an email statement the purchase builds on Maclellan's commitment to Highland Park.

"[The purchase] will enable cost-effective expansion of the [existing small soccer] courts and the development of new ministry sites in the neighborhood," he said.

Dr. Wayne Barber, senior pastor of Woodland Park, said getting Tennessee Temple on the church campus by the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year will be a "stretch," but "I think we can do it."

"I'm an impatient person," he said. "I wanted it to happen yesterday. But I think we're well in pace with [a fall opening]."

If Tennessee Temple does move some of its classes to Woodland Park, the plan could take a variety of forms, Echols said. Initially, specific degree programs might be moved there in existing classrooms or available indoor space could be built out for classes. Later, he said, stand-alone structures might be added.

If the school's buildings don't sell by the time a move needed to be made, bridge financing could be worked out, he said.

"Banks have looked at our assets and our debts, and they feel very good to partner with the church," Echols said. "Our cash flow also looks good."

He said university officials also are reviewing housing options for the future, including whether the school initially could use present housing in Highland Park, build stand-alone structures on Woodland Park property or even use nearby hotel space on a long-term basis.

Barber said the process is "moving like I felt it would" and church leadership is "very solid" behind it. Two town hall meetings at the church this week are being held to answer any member questions.

"The finest people we've got in the church -- much smarter than me," he said, are heading the church end of the undertaking.

"We're being conservative step by step," Echols said.

The university, which has been independent most of its existence, also received a unanimous resolution of support by the Tennessee Baptist Convention at its annual gathering in Chattanooga last week.

The resolution doesn't bring the school formally under the Southern Baptist Convention wing but is a "real step toward a closer relationship," Echols said. The resolution was one of only three approved during the gathering, he said.

"This is very, very good for us," he said.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at [email protected] or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.