New life for old Cedar Rapids school

Small Cedar Rapids church hopes to transform empty Lincoln Elementary building

Published: February 28 2014 | 8:08 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:16 am in

The Rev. John Hankins heads The Sanctuary, a fledgling church established about a year ago in Cedar Rapids. There are only about 25 congregants meeting out of a storefront at 3800 Wilson Ave. SW, but the church’s small size and relative newness isn’t stopping Hankins from dreaming big.

At Monday’s Cedar Rapids school board meeting, the district approved the sale of the long-empty Lincoln Elementary School building and the 1.93 acres it sits on, at 912 18th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids, to Sanctuary Ministries for $105,000.

Hankins, 47, said Sanctuary Ministries hopes to transform the defunct building into a faith-based community center. He envisions discipleship classes, neighborhood kids using the building’s gymnasium and programs including a community garden, a clothing and food bank and job search assistance programs.

“A lot of people think I’m nuts, because we are a small church,” he said.

But he said he feels confident other community churches and organizations will get involved. The Sanctuary is a member of Serve the City, a coalition of 55 area congregations and ministries. Hankins said other coalition members have expressed support.

“Other congregations are wanting to help us,” he said. “They’re catching the vision.”

The building will also house church services under Hankin’s plan. The Sanctuary, which is under the direction of The Fountain Ministry in Walford, has been meeting in rental space owned by Space Walk of Cedar Rapids.

None of the plans are set in stone yet. Hankins is still trying to raise money for the purchase. In the first few weeks of fundraising, he said he brought in about $14,000. He said he hopes to avoid having the church go into debt in the form of a loan.

However, according to the terms of the deal with the Cedar Rapids School District, The Sanctuary Ministries has two weeks from the offer acceptance date to apply for a loan. The loan must then be secured within two months. The property closing date is June 2. If a loan is not secured, the school district may renegotiate an offer with a different non-profit which was interested in using the building for senior housing.

The $105,000 offer is significantly less than the building’s $600,000 appraised value and former $295,000 sale price. Scott Olson, a Cedar Rapids City Council member and a commercial real estate consultant representing the district in the sale, told The Gazette earlier this month that the price drop was due to the amount of work that needs to be done on the building, which is not in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards for schools.

Hankins, who also owns Prism Painting, said he doesn’t find the repair work daunting.

“The exterior is in very sound shape,” he said.

He said he thinks the 100-year-old building can continue to serve Cedar Rapids.

“We just want to do our part in changing the city for the better,” he said.

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