Mt. Bethel Christian Academy, at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church off Lower Roswell Road, is coming closer to negotiating a multi-million dollar contract with the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta to purchase the 32-acre Shirley Blumenthal Park to expand the academy to serve high school students.
The park is at 2509 Post Oak Tritt Road, approximately six miles north of Mt. Bethel’s campus.
It includes a 25,000-square-foot multi-purpose building with classrooms, a gym, fitness center, outdoor Olympic size pool, tennis courts, youth football fields and a five-acre lake.
“Our parents are tremendously excited and somewhat surprising to me is that that goes all the way down to our kindergarten families,” said Jim Callis, Mt. Bethel’s head of school. “We look to be serving a need and really what we perceive as a gap in the market.”
He said there aren’t any faith-based high schools in the east Cobb area.
Mt. Bethel Christian Academy has aimed to serve ninth through 12th grade students since first opening in 1998.
The school started 15 years ago with just a kindergarten program and added a grade level each year since then, graduating its first eighth-grade class in 2004.
Mt. Bethel now serves approximately 510 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Callis said are looking to expand the facility in two phases.
First, Mt. Bethel will grow grade by grade each year, with approximately 40 to 45 freshmen students the first year, and a maximum of about 180 students through 12th grade four years later.
“We will then hold there because the current campus will need to be renovated,” Callis said.
They will then re-evaluate funding to construct more academic space if deemed necessary, and their maximum expectations are to serve up to 110 students per grade level when the high school is complete.
Plans for funding
As far as where funding will come from to buy the property, Callis said they will be turning to the academy’s families, their home church, foundations and the community.
The two parties have agreed not to disclose the amount of the property at this time but Callis said it will cost “millions of dollars.”
“We’ve been going back and forth with (MJCCA) for around eight months,” he said.
With 9,000 congregation members at Mt. Bethel Church, Callis said they’ve been talking to church representatives to see if and how they can help out with the purchase.
“They have been very supportive since the founding of the school,” he said. “In discussions with the church, we are trying to gauge their level of interest with the fundraising campaign.”
Callis said the academy will also look to its school’s parents.
“We will have an academy campaign and work with our foundations to raise funds to put together a coalition of donors,” he said.
And if fundraising and minor renovations go as planned, Callis said
they are looking to open their high school to
its first freshmen class next August.
Deciding to sell
Steven Cadranel, east Cobb resident and president of MJCCA, said they began looking at what to do with the property around five years ago when their organization conducted a study to determine whether to keep it open and running or to try and sell it after noticing a decrease in program participation.
“After a pretty lengthy and involved effort, it resulted in our decision to minimize the use of the facility … we began quietly pursuing offers for the property,” he said.
Cadranel said they were not in a hurry to sell the property but were very excited when they reached an agreement with Mt. Bethel Christian Academy.
“Their vision was like ours,” he said. “And it’s been everything we were looking for … programs designed to serve youth and families.”
He noted that they are under control with Mt. Bethel but the sale is not complete.
“There are still a number hurdles to clear, but our hope and expectation and I know theirs as well, is that we would be closing in the latter part of 2013 or more likely first quarter of 2014,” he said.
Background on Shirley Blumenthal Park
MJCCA originally purchased the 32-acre park property in 1986 and completed construction of the preschool building in 1989.
“I was involved in the initial fundraising back in 1986 and 1987 and oversaw a couple of expansions of the facility,” Cadranel said. “My children were just two of the many that enjoyed their time at the preschool and camp.”
Two of the park’s biggest programs were The Sunshine Preschool, which was relocated in 2010 to Temple Kol Emeth off Old Canton Road, and Camp Chai, which was merged with a similar camp in Dunwoody.
The property is still used occasionally, specifically the gym and ball fields for men’s recreational basketball and softball leagues.
“We’ve minimized the use, but at its peak, our preschool had an enrollment of around 225 kids and the camp an enrollment around 350,” he said.
The center’s “peak” was in the mid-1990s.