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Vienna Town Council ponders future of Faith Baptist Church property

The former Faith Baptist Church is temporarily housing the Vienna Police Department (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Anything is possible for Vienna’s former Faith Baptist Church site — anything within the financial reach of a town whose annual budget comes in under $50 million, that is.

The 3-acre property at 301 Center Street South was a “godsend” for the town, hitting the market just as the search for a temporary home for the Vienna Police Department was becoming urgent, Councilmember Ed Somers said during a town council work session on March 28.

With the two-year project to build a new police station now in its second year, town officials are starting to contemplate what to do with the church property after the police move out.

“There’s not going to be new property in town, so this is kind of a special opportunity,” Town Manager Mercury Payton said at the work session. “…It could be something unique that would help further define who we are as Vienna.”

The most likely course of action appears to be a parks and recreation facility, which could mean adapting the existing building into a community center annex, as proposed by town staff, or clearing the site for a new ballfield or outdoor ampitheater.

Councilmember Nisha Patel floated a beer garden as a hypothetical possibility that the community could suggest outside the parks and rec umbrella, noting that “you don’t want to have a closed mind.”

Finance Director Marion Serfass suggested including a public survey in the next water bill mailings. Mayor Linda Colbert encouraged staff to use different methods to ensure all residents get a chance to weigh in, while other council members emphasized a need to control expectations of what’s feasible.

“It’s actually pretty exciting to go to the community and say, ‘What do you want to do?'” Payton said.

Annex proposed as short-term plan

Any long-term plan for the church property likely won’t come to fruition for another 10 to 15 years due to the length of the planning, design, and construction process and how long it will take sufficient funding to become available under the town’s debt model for capital projects, Payton told the council.

To prevent the building from sitting vacant for the next decade, the Parks and Recreation Department presented a plan to utilize the property — informally dubbed the Annex — for classrooms, event rentals, and recreational programming.

The church has offices that could host classes and meetings as well as a gymnasium and a stage in the sanctuary that could support artistic performances, according to Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman.

“We do have a big demand, and there are limitations to the community center,” Herman said. “When we had the renovation done [in 2017]…it added a gym. It didn’t add additional classroom space, so we’re still limited to what we can do there.”

However, converting the church into a recreational facility even temporarily could potentially cost $1 million, a study contracted by the town found.

An estimated $400,000 is required just to meet the building and fire code standards necessary to obtain an occupancy permit from Fairfax County. Other possible expenses include asbestos testing, roof repairs, and facility upgrades, such as an elevator to the second level and new floor to make the stage suitable for theatrical and dance performances.

On top of that, town staff estimated that the Annex would carry $229,000 in operational costs per year, while only bringing in about $214,000 in revenue from class and rental fees.

While staff reported that the town already has about $500,000 available to use for the church, including $300,000 from this year’s capital improvements bond, council members balked at the price tag for a temporary fix.

“Without knowing what we want to do with the property, asking for $1 million as a band-aid until we figure it out, I think, is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars,” Patel said.

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