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Commercial Real Estate

Jan. 23 - St. John Baptist Church buys Savannah Christian Prep’s DeRenne Campus with major expansion planned

Category: Commercial Real Estate

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

January 23, 2017 - Two leading Christian institutions in Savannah announced the conclusion of a major transaction representing growth and expansion of their ministries today.

In November, Savannah Christian Preparatory School and St. John Baptist Church known as "The Mighty Fortress" concluded an extensive agreement.   SCPS sold its DeRenne Avenue campus, facilities and equipment to St. John Baptist Church for $3,200,000.  The 14.6-acre campus contains four buildings with classrooms, labs, media centers, a cafeteria, two gyms, and two athletic fields.

"We are both honored and proud to announce this important step in the history of these two institutions of faith," said Bill Daniel, chairman of the SCPS Board of Trustees. "Our DeRenne Avenue campus has been home for our Middle & Lower Schools for over 30 years. This transaction not only facilitates the final consolidation of our school onto one campus next August, but it also represents the opportunity for our brothers and sisters at St. John Baptist to expand their ministries to their congregation and the community. SCPS is thrilled that our treasured campus will continue to be a center for worship, Christian education, and service to our Lord and the Savannah community."

“What an amazing location for our church congregation to move to so we can grow to help our current and future church population,” said Dr. George Lee, pastor of St. John Baptist Church (pictured).  “The campus is filled with love and God’s grace and will be a wonderful place for our church family to call home,” he said.

According to Rev. Lee, the church will eventually be moving its senior housing on East Broad Street, St. John Villa Senior House, to Derenne Ave.  That will allow them to expand from 15 to 125 units of senior citizen housing.

And, St. John Academy, which currently has 50 students in facilities leased from the former Cokesbury Methodist Church at the corner of Derenne Ave. and Skidaway Rd, will move into the Savannah Christian classrooms.

Further, the church’s feed-the-hungry programs will be able to be expanded with more space and the school cafeteria.

Architect Neil Dawson has been hired to design a new 2,000 seat sanctuary, integrating the sanctuary with the existing school classrooms, for Sunday School and other needs.  Rev. Lee said that he has no figures yet on projected costs, though he anticipates that the new senior housing will be a HUD, public/private project. 

The initial $3.2 mil purchase was financed by Union Bank & Trust, a major national bank which has a church funding unit, according to Pastor Lee.

As to the existing properties the church owns on Hartridge Street – the church, parking lot and other buildings there including The Sylvester Hoskins “Mission House” – they are looking at options, he added.

“We have interest in leasing, but no decisions have been made,” he said today.  The Chatham County Tax Assessors set the value of the church and surrounding buildings and parking lot at a total of $1,032,600 approximately, plus the value of the St. John Villa housing on East Broad St.

Under the terms of their agreement, Savannah Christian Prep Middle School will complete the current academic year and then hand the campus over to the new owners at the end of July.

Beginning with the new 2017-18 school year, all divisions of SCPS will be together at its Chatham Parkway campus where renovations and expansions of existing buildings are in progress.  Currently, the historic building, which was mid-century dorms, will be completely renovated doubling its original size to include nine classrooms and three science labs for the Middle School. 

In addition, the school is renovating the original athletic gymnasium and will name it in memory of Doyle Kelley, the late coach who faithfully served for 35 years. Along with existing campus classrooms, the Middle School will have a dynamic, dedicated presence on the Chatham Parkway campus. 

“All of us at Savannah Christian Prep are excited to have all of our students on one campus next fall. We could not have hoped for a better partner than St. John's to purchase the DeRenne property,” said Dr. Chris Harmon, headmaster of SCPS.  “We have had a wonderful relationship with the church and we look forward to working with them again in the future on other ventures that meet the needs of our Savannah community.”

St. John Baptist Church, also known as The Mighty Fortress, is located in the beautiful historic downtown area of Savannah, Georgia led by their pastor, Dr. George P. Lee III.  Their mission is “edify the saints, evangelize the sinners, and equip the soldiers.” 

Savannah Christian Prep is the largest private school in the southeast serving over 1,000 families through their Preschool, Lower, Middle, and Upper School.   The administration and staff are dedicated to developing the whole person to the glory of God.

St. John ‘The Mighty Fortress’ is located at 527 Hartridge Street in Savannah’s Historic District.  The church was rebuilt after a fire, and is completely paid for through contributions of the members.  “But, we did not seek to be museum,” explained Rev. Lee.  “About five years ago, we did demographic research on our congregation and only about 5% live in the Historic District.  Our members come from as far as Hinesville, Darien and South Carolina.  We need to grow to serve all of our needs.”

On December 19, 2005, Rev. Lee commenced his official duties as pastor of St. John Baptist Church, "The Mighty Fortress."


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