School district approves purchase of church for early childhood education

By: Jenny You, Aaron Dimick Email
By: Jenny You, Aaron Dimick Email

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- By fall, early childhood students and teachers in the Eau Claire Area School District will step into a new school.

On Monday night, the school board officially approved the purchase of Epiphany Lutheran Church along with nearly 17 acres of land.

The purchase price is $2,850,000.

The executive director of business said taxpayers won’t see an increase in taxes because the building will be financed through a 10-year bond issue and principal interest payments will be funded through operational funds.

The purchase will be closed sometime in April.

The building will be filled with at least 200 early childhood education students, a group that continues to see overcrowding.

President of the school board Dr. Carol Craig said the purchase is a win-win.

“It’s a win-win for students, it’s a win-win for staff, it’s a win-win for Epiphany Lutheran. Finally we have a facility for all of our early childhood kids to come to one location, saving staff expenses in terms of traveling, saving transportation having really predictable and appropriate programs for these young learners,” said Craig.

Craig said the seven different centers that early childhood students currently use will close by next fall, freeing up space for other programs that would normally use those buildings.

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- This week the Eau Claire Area School District will move forward on a controversial issue, converting Epiphany Lutheran Church into an early education center.

But what's next for the Eau Claire congregation?

WEAU 13 News got its first look inside the soon-to-be school Sunday.

Lockers, a gym, and classrooms with blackboards, it looks like a school, but the building is home to Epiphany Lutheran.

“About 1995 they moved up to this facility trying to increase the size of the school and the membership,” said Patrick Thony.

The Congregational President said the school, known as Eau Claire Lutheran School, didn’t grow as planned.

“The extra money they had kept going to the school to keep it open for Christian education. But it eventually got to the point where the church could no longer afford to make up that difference,” Thony said.

School bells stopped ringing in 2011.

And although Epiphany has 400 members, costs to keep the doors open have been less than heavenly.

“Our mortgage is $22,000 a month. I would say it’s got to be over double of any congregation in our area,” Thony said.

So when the school district started shopping for a new location for its pre-K classes, Thony said he had administration come and take a look.

“When they walked in the door and saw it was actually a 43,000 square foot school with no church ever built, they were pretty amazed,” Thony said.

A referendum to buy the building for $3.9 million bombed in 2011.

But the district has been able to resurrect the proposal, moving forward on buying Epiphany for $2.8 million without voter approval.

School Board President Carol Craig said the district plans to finalize the purchase this spring and move in around 200 little learners this fall.

“They're able to walk in and turn the lights on and basically use it as a school today,” Thony said.

But what will happen when the crosses come down?

Thony said it is possible Epiphany could join congregations with Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Eau Claire or use its building.

“You almost wonder if this wasn't the use for this all along. We weren’t able to afford it. It gives the school district a building at a very affordable price. It's a good thing for the community and for the kids in our community,” Thony said.

He said the joint congregation with Our Redeemer would have to be approved by members of both churches.

The Epiphany purchase will be brought up at the School Board's Monday night meeting.

The school district said a early childhood education building is needed because of overcrowding in other facilities.

A referendum could have been launched for voters to approve the purchase, but petitions with enough signatures were not handed in by the deadline.


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