Feb. 7—BETHEL — With the prospect of a grant on the table to demolish Bethel Christian Academy and turn the site into a park, members of the church that owns and operates the private school must now decide whether to part with it.
Confusion ensued last week following news of a FEMA grant being pursued to turn flood-prone properties in downtown Canton into a riverside park. While the deacons of Bethel Baptist Church had unanimously endorsed the idea two years ago, it was unclear whether those over the school or in the congregation at large were aware of the plan.
Now, a new vote will now be taken to the full congregation on Feb. 25.
Following the 11 a.m. service at Bethel Baptist on Sunday, Pastor Roy Kilby brought head deacon Bobby Shelton up to the pulpit to announce the upcoming vote. The congregation had voted to sell the building once before, but that was seven years ago and many didn't remember, Shelton said.
Some thought it was still for sale, but others thought it was off the market since the contract with the realtor had expired, Shelton explained. The dynamics of the church have changed a lot since the initial vote, Shelton said, and asked all to pray before their decision.
The school, housed in the former Canton YMCA, sits in the floodway and was swamped by the Pigeon River during the floods of 2004 and 2021.
The school site is a strong candidate for a $6.7 million FEMA grant to mitigate future flooding by converting development in the flood plain to open space. The concept emerged from a "flood print plan" by N.C. Coastal Dynamics Design Lab, which is providing services free of charge to help Haywood County develop a plan to mitigate future flooding.
When asking the church about future plans for the academy building last week, The Mountaineer was referred to Shelton and Kilby, who chartered Bethel Family Ministries, a nonprofit organization under which Bethel Christian Academy operates.
Kilby said the building wasn't for sale and that the idea was absurd. Shelton, likewise, said it was his understanding that the building wasn't for sale.
Other deacons were of the understanding the church-wide vote to sell taken years ago was still in effect, and said the building was simply no longer listed with a real estate agent to give the church more control over who bought it and the future building use.
When an opportunity to apply for the FEMA buyout program came along, the deacons voted to pursue the option.
In 2002, Bethel Baptist purchased the 5.5 acre site and building for $400,000. The property now has a value of $3.25 million, according to county tax rolls.