USD 410 Board of Education instructed Superintendent Steve Noble to enter negotiations with Grace Community Church over the church’s request to lease space in one of the district’s schools to have church services and Sunday school.
Pastor Adam Utecht said the church, based in Newton, sees a calling to begin a congregation in Hillsboro. He said information from the Hillsboro Ministerial Alliance shows approximately 70 percent of the local population doesn’t attend church regularly.
“Seventy percent unchurched seems really high,” Board President Eddie Weber said.
Utecht said it caught him by surprise at first, too, until he looked closer at the numbers. He said information from the Ministerial Alliance showed average total weekly church attendance of about 1,000 with a population near 3,000.
The church asked to use a gymnasium or auditorium space large enough for 120 people or more, plus room for about six Sunday school classes. The church would only need the space from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays. The church asked for a one-year lease.
The church would provide its own sound equipment, supplies, and liability insurance, Utecht said.
Utecht said there are about 45 people in the Hillsboro area involved with the church already, and they would expect about 120 to attend the first services.
Weber said he thought Hillsboro Elementary School would work best for the church, because it is air-conditioned in the summer anyway for events run by Prairie View at the school, but the air-conditioning in the gym might be too noisy for church services.
The Gordon Mohn Community Center at HES would be the best spot for air-conditioning without a lot of noise. District maintenance director Keith Goossen assured the board it has enough room for 120 people or more. The school library might work for the Sunday school classes without interfering with actual classrooms.
Questions of snow removal and cleanup were raised. Noble said he would prefer to have those handled by the district, but at the church’s expense.
Weber asked what the church would do about funerals. Utecht said funerals could either be held at Grace Community Church in Newton or arrangements could be made with another Hillsboro church.
Weber also raised a question of what the district’s responsibilities would be if another, much less desirable church requested a lease if USD 410 gave one to Grace Community Church. Noble said the law allows the district to lease space to outside groups, but the district can’t discriminate among them. However, board policy leaves room to negotiate long-term leases such as the one for the church.
If another church then wanted to lease school space for services, the district would at least have to offer some kind of terms for a lease, but there would be no specific requirements for what those terms would be.
Weber asked Utecht about the church’s long-range plans. Utecht said the church wouldn’t want to use the school indefinitely. He said they would probably know in two to three years whether the church would want to build a facility in Hillsboro. Noble said he had spoken with Marion County Appraiser Cindy Magill. Leasing space to the church wouldn’t have any effect on the district’s tax-exempt status, at least for the first year.
Utecht said the church would like to have services by Easter, April 8. That would require the board have a special meeting, because the next regular board meeting is April 9.
Weber asked board members whether they agreed in principle to leasing space to the church before negotiating the finer details. Board member Chad Nowak said he would like to explore the opportunity at HES. The board instructed Noble to proceed with negotiations with the church.