Decatur First Methodist to sell chapel and school building on Sycamore
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By Cathi Harris, contributor
Decatur, GA – Decatur First United Methodist Church (DFUMC) has entered into an agreement to sell its historic 1899 stone chapel at the corner of Sycamore Street and Commerce Drive, as well as the adjacent Sycamore Building, the current home of its Decatur First Kindergarten and Preschool.
The preschool will move to the church’s main campus over the summer and the property transfer is scheduled to close in June.
“The ongoing master plan led the church to consider the sale,” Dalton Rushing, the DFUMC’s senior pastor told Decaturish. “Throughout the process, the church has decided on multiple occasions to focus its work on community engagement. Any final master plan will prioritize continuing to be a good neighbor in and with Decatur.”
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The church, founded in 1823, first worshiped in a small wooden building located near where the Sycamore Building is now. What is now the chapel was constructed as the main sanctuary and worship space in 1899, with additions added in 1916 and 1922. The church moved its services to the larger sanctuary on Ponce de Leon in the 1960s, but the chapel is still used by the congregation for special events and services like weddings.
They did not have to look far for a buyer. Kyle Williams and Eric Teusink, partners in the law firm Williams Teusink, also own the High House just across the street, are under contract to purchase the buildings.
They were originally interested in buying the Bassett House, another of the church’s Sycamore properties several years ago, but were outbid, Williams told Decaturish.
Once the church made the decision to also sell the Sycamore Building and chapel, their broker contacted the parties who had expressed interest in that previous sale.
“I have looked out my window at those buildings for years,” Williams told Decaturish. “I am very excited—but also a little terrified—about the prospect of occupying them. But I think that the church leadership knows that I will respect the history of the buildings and will continue to be here and to work with them.”
Williams and Teusink previously won a Historic Preservation Commission design award for their renovation of the High House, built in 1830 and thought to be DeKalb County’s oldest building as well as Decatur’s first two-story house.
The firm has outgrown their office, and needs a larger space and the Sycamore Building, with its 10-foot ceilings and huge windows will be perfect. Williams is less specific about plans for the chapel space, except to say that any changes to the building will be minimal, his agreement with the church will allow them to continue to have access to it — they will also retain ownership of the stained glass window above choir loft, for example — and that its use will be respectful of its history as a place of worship.
“We have had all of our inspections and the contracts have been signed,” Williams said. “We agreed to the longer date for closing to give the school time to finish their year. And there are several easements and other stipulations in our agreement that give the church ongoing access to some things. So, I want everyone to know that we are operating in a spirit of cooperation.”
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Rushing agreed, adding that the decision to accept the purchase offer was made at a congregation-wide meeting in August of last year.
“Kyle’s offer seemed perfectly designed to benefit Decatur as a whole, to honor the church’s history, and to allow the church to focus on its ministry to Decatur, Rushing said. “One of the blessings of the sale is that [the chapel] will continue to be used as community space and, in partnership with Kyle Williams, for occasional religious services through Decatur First UMC.”
In recent years, DFUMC has — like many other congregations — struggled with the increased costs of maintaining aging properties, information on the church website indicates.
This is particularly true of Decatur First Methodist because it owns most of two whole blocks in downtown Decatur. All of the property on the block bordered by Ponce de Leon, North Candler Street and Commerce, and most of the block between Sycamore, Candler and Ponce. The Sycamore properties are also in the Old Decatur Historic District, which significantly restricts how they may be renovated, added to, or used.
Selling the Sycamore properties will allow the church to improve its main campus and consolidate more of its ministry and services there. The preschool will move to the main campus over the summer and will definitely remain open, Rushing said.
“There is a reason the Decatur First Preschool has such a stellar relationship in the community, and the church is excited that the school will be moving to the main campus this summer,” he said. “The new space will only enhance the excellent program. In fact, registration for the 2020-2021 school year is ongoing at https://www.decaturfirst.org/preschool.”
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