Sale of Olney campus will allow Washington Christian to remain open -- Gazette.Net


Bethel World Outreach Ministries has purchased the Washington Christian Academy property, and through a lease-back arrangement, will allow the school to remain operational.

Washington Christian Academy is a coeducational private school for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The school, which opened in 1960, built a 68,000-square-foot building on 60 wooded acres at 16227 Batchellors Forest Road in Olney in 2008.

Under terms of the sale, Bethel World Outreach Ministries will allow Washington Christian Academy to remain functional during the week. On weekends, the building will serve the congregational needs of the church.

Head of School David Hawes admitted that the transaction was atypical, but said he was very pleased with the outcome.

“We were dealing with a level of instability, so this puts us in a much better financial picture,” he said. “It’s been about six months since the church first approached us, and we have developed a real good relationship with them. We have talked about potential ministries that we can do together.”

In recent years, the school’s enrollment had declined. Currently, there are 224 students, down from 310 when the Olney campus opened in 2008.

“We were in a position where we weren’t able to service our debt, and this remedies that,” said Hawes. “Our lease payments are substantially lower than what we were paying.”

The school is undergoing admissions for next year, and Hawes said the process is going well.

“We are looking at a good preliminary increase in enrollment for next year,” he said. “We are holding an open house on February 17, and are looking forward to our years ahead in Olney.”

Bethel World Outreach Ministries was founded in 1990 by Dr. and Mrs. Darlingston G. Johnson. The church since has operated in Silver Spring. Due to expanded growth, the church opened the City of Hope Cultural Center in Montgomery Village in 2009 to meet the needs of the upcounty community.

This is not Bethel’s first attempt at finding a new home in Montgomery County. Last year, the county paid $1.25 million in a settlement to the congregation, which had wanted to build an 800-seat church in the agricultural preserve but was barred from doing so.

The church sued the county for violating its rights to freely exercise its religion, and in January 2013 a federal appeals court reversed part of a lower court’s decision and sent that matter back to federal district court for a trial on whether the county’s decision violates the church’s rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Following their attempt to build in Germantown, the church also was considering a property on Norbeck Road, before settling on the Olney property.

Church board member Hannibal Brumskine said that more than 1,000 people representing 45 countries attend its services each Sunday.

Brumskine said board members and consultants are currently looking at their Master Plan to determine how best to utilize the Olney property, but their goal is to eventually hold weekend services there.

“We have a couple of options, but haven’t made any final decisions yet,” he said.

Bethel does not currently operate a school, and Brumskine said that is not something the church plans to pursue.

“WCA already has a school, and we share the same missions with them — a family-oriented church, serving the community and providing Christian education,” he said.

Brumskine confirmed that the two organizations would coexist on the property.

“There will be no interruption in terms of school activities,” Brumskine said. “We will work to accommodate them.”

The sale was brokered by Towson-based NAI KLNB, and was finalized on Jan. 10.

“This was an extremely unique transaction that enabled both the buyer and seller to satisfy specific real estate requirements,” stated David Fritz, a principal with NAI KLNB, in a news release. “Washington Christian Academy successfully shed an asset while remaining operational in the building, and Bethel World Outreach Ministries found a workable location that accommodates an expanding congregation. With the sale-lease-back situation, the church also realizes extra income.”