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FBC Gardendale plans $53 million building programcomment (0)

January 3, 2002

By Greg Heyman

A $53.4 million building program planned by First Baptist Church, Gardendale, will result in one of the largest sanctuaries and most expensive campuses among Baptist churches in Alabama.

First, Gardendale, plans to relocate about one-and-a-half miles from its current location off Fields Town Road.

The 7,200-member church voted Dec. 16 to build the new 3,500-seat sanctuary and other buildings on 130 acres of property between the Fieldstown Road and Mount Olive Road exits on I-65 N.

The church may eventually build an even larger sanctuary at the site, said Pastor Steve Gaines.

While the facility will increase the church’s total value, Gaines said building the new campus isn’t about having the largest or most expensive church. It is about the church’s impact on the greater Birmingham area, he said.

“We’re not trying to be a big church, we couldn’t care less about that,” Gaines said. “We’re really just trying to glorify the Lord.”

While the sanctuary’s size will equal that of Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, the total cost of First, Gardendale’s, new campus will far exceed that of the Mobile church’s $25 million facility.

Gaines said the church’s growth has left it bursting at the seams.

“We’ve outgrown our campus,” he said. “In the last five years, we’ve grown 40 percent in our Sunday School attendance and 80 percent in our Sunday morning worship attendance.”

Gaines said the church will start the building process this Spring, with a targeted completion date of Fall 2004 for the sanctuary, educational space and a 20-acre parking lot. The parking lot is estimated to cost approximately $35 million.

Once the new sanctuary and classrooms are completed, Gaines said the church will begin conducting Sunday services there. He said the church will continue to have Wednesday activities at the church’s current family life center and fellowship hall, with the church’s administrative offices and day care also remaining there at the present location.

“We’ll be at two locations, but we’ll never have people at both at one time,” he said.

The church will begin construction of a new family life center, fellowship hall, an amphitheater and prayer tower as it begins to pay down the debt on the first two buildings.

“We’ll do it as soon as we can,” Gaines said. “We’re not going to get ourselves swamped in debt.”

Looking even beyond the current building program — and a new sanctuary that is not even built yet — Gaines said a 5,000-seat sanctuary will probably be needed by the end of this decade. “At our current growth rate, we’re going to need a new sanctuary, probably around 2010,” he said.

Parking alone has become one need for relocating. Gaines said the church had planned to build another sanctuary at its current location but was limited by an availability of parking spaces.

The church only has 1,100 parking spaces now and needs twice that many on Sunday mornings, according to Gaines. Many worshipers park at the nearby high school and at local businesses that are closed on Sundays.

Gaines said the church identified five acres of property it could have used for parking at its current location, but determined it still would not be enough.

The amount the church is spending on its new facility exceeds other large churches in the state.

The sanctuary at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham seats 2,200. The total value of Brook Hills’ current property is $25 million, with future expansion estimated at an additional $20 million.

Whitesburg Baptist Church’s sanctuary in Huntsville seats 3,000 with the total value of its campus at $25 million. Although Whitesburg recently added several new buildings, its current sanctuary and educational space were built several years ago at lower costs.

Birmingham area churches Shades Mountain and Dawson Memorial seat 3,200 and 1,800, respectively, with church officials saying their total value is far below that planned by First, Gardendale. Like Whitesburg, large portions of the two church’s campuses were built years ago.

Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover, also has a large campus, complete with a 2,250-seat sanctuary, but ministry personnel did not wish to release cost estimates for this article.

Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, said his church is constructing a new sanctuary that will seat 1,300 and cost $17.5 million.

Dauphin Way Baptist Church, Mobile, has a sanctuary with a maximum capacity of 2,500. The campus’ total value is estimated to be below that of First, Gardendale.

“I think the Lord is allowing us to become a church that is reaching out to the entire Birmingham metroplex.” Gaines said the church’s growth is evidence Baptists in the area are hungry for the worship the church offers.

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