“We are trying to make this a very special occasion because it will be our last homecoming in this facility and then the relocation part of our journey begins,” Senior Pastor Allan Lovelace said Wednesday during an interview at the church.
Relocating the congregation to new facilities a mile south on Dalton Pike was a long-term plan that would have unfolded over the next 10 to 15 years. The plan was abruptly changed when what appeared to be a sinkhole developed on the southern edge of the parking lot. The sinkhole, as it turned out, was the septic tank everyone thought was located under the parking lot 75 yards closer to the sanctuary.
Finding the septic tank changed everything. Up until that point, the Tennessee Department of Transportation was only taking a portion of church property to widen Dalton Pike, but the sanctuary and education center would have remained intact. It would have been a struggle to park all the churchgoers in the smaller parking lot, but it was a small inconvenience and the 15-year plan was workable.
The church had already purchased 100 acres south of its current location in 2007. It didn’t want or need that much property, but there was not much land available between its current location and Walmart.
“It was one of those things of we’d rather have it and not need it than not have it and need it,” Lovelace said.
The discovery of the septic tank on the edge of right of way placed the field lines under the roadway. Instead of purchasing damaged property, the highway department was forced to buy the property and condemn it. Once TDOT gives the church a check, the congregation has 90 days to move out of the sanctuary and education center.
Waterville Baptist Church was then faced with finding a place to hold Sunday worship services. That problem was temporarily solved Sunday morning when Lee University President Dr. Paul Conn and Vice President for University Relations Dr. Jerome Hammond offered to let the congregation meet the next two years in the First Baptist Church building after that congregation moves to its new facilities on Stuart Road. Lee University bought the church earlier this summer for about $5 million.
Hammond said this morning the agreement to allow Waterville Baptist Church to worship in the building on Church Street for the next two years was not an automatic decision.
He said the schedule, timing and usage of the building all had to work during the time when the university is still trying to put all the pieces together.
“All the components came together in a wonderful kind of partnership, but it was not automatic,” he said. “We are very happy with the arrangement.”
Lovelace said church leadership considered purchasing the First Baptist Church facilities in downtown Cleveland.
“The leadership team felt like they should be good stewards and look at First Baptist Church in the event there was a problem down the road and we weren’t able to build on our property or the damage settlement with TDOT wasn’t good.
“We didn’t want our congregation looking at us saying, ‘They just sold their church, why didn’t you look into that as opposed to not having anyplace to go?’”
Waterville leadership decided a four-mile relocation for a 60-year-old church would be very difficult and too much of an adjustment and though the congregation comes from all parts of the county, there would be a change in the identity of the church if it moved downtown.
They will instead move up their 15-year timeline by about 15 years and build on the 100 acres farther south on Dalton Pike.
“We are not going to build next to the road,” Lovelace said.