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New church group pursues vision of helping poor

Inspired by a lengthy conversation in the wake of a meeting on homelessness, a group of local religious leaders and social service providers have come together to meet the needs of local families and individuals struggling with poverty.

And their effort could also answer the lingering question of what will become of Southeastern Elementary School when students leave for their new school at year’s end.

CareFair2

Pastor Aaron Francis speaks during last Saturday's Care Fair event hosted by the Logan County Community Ministry Foundation at the Bellefontaine First United Methodist Church. A group of local religious leaders and social service providers is attempting to establish a community center at the Southeastern Elementary School building once it is vacated at year's end. EXAMINER PHOTO | REUBEN MEES

The Bellefontaine City School District is willing to donate the property to the organization, but it must clear several legal hurdles first.

Led by Logan County Community Ministry Foundation, which hosted the Care Fair last weekend to introduce their concepts, the community center at the school will be named Union Station, director Liz Carter said.

“We’re going to partner with agencies and ministries that are already working and may need a bigger space,” she said, noting that very few details of the building’s current layout will be altered in the transition.

Existing classroom space can be used for offices or meeting rooms with the largest being reserved for a meeting space available for public use. The library would serve as a resource room where clients seeking services or looking for a job can access computers and other information.

The gym and playground areas will remain as recreation areas for youth or developmentally disabled sports leagues such as Upward Sports and the Special Olympics programs.

Other current partners include Ride Solutions, which will offer a van pool to take workers to and from various factories or other jobs, and the Equip Learning tutoring program.

“We see this as fun opportunities for the community at large and a chance to do educating to help people get out of poverty,” Ms. Carter said.

There is some opposition to the project among residents of the neighborhood, and the wide variety of uses the group is considering is also a tricky issue in the city’s zoning code, city officials report.

Zoned R-1, or single family residential, the school building is in the most restrictive zoning areas, City Engineer Tim Notestine said. The Board of Zoning Appeals has discussed the issue and a request for a conditional use for a non-profit recreational center, but it has been tabled until at least April 30.

The city school board must also approve the transfer of the property. Superintendent Beth Harman said giving up the school would save the district about $300,000 in demolition costs.

The foundation also must finalize legal details in the formation of a non-profit entity.

If all of these hurdles are cleared, however, the organizers believe the project would streamline the way Logan County handles social services.

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