Vienna will send 1950s-era Faith Baptist Church building to ‘house heaven’

The former Faith Baptist Church building in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Faith Baptist Church that has occupied 301 Center Street South in Vienna for about seven decades will officially be torn down.

Faced with increasing maintenance costs, the Vienna Town Council voted unanimously on Monday (June 5) to demolish the entire two-story building, which was originally built in the 1950s, according to Fairfax County records.

The town purchased the 3-acre property in 2020 in part to have a temporary base for the Vienna Police Department during the construction of its new headquarters. Chartered in 1952, the church had opted to close its doors and sell to support the creation of a new network of “connection groups” in Northern Virginia, per its website.

Some council members previously suggested keeping the church’s gym, but that would cost between $2.9 million and $3.3 million, Director of Parks and Recreation Leslie Herman reported in a May 24 memo.

After seeing those new numbers, which exceeded the $1 million that an earlier study estimated would be needed to convert the building into a usable recreational facility, the decision to send the church to “house heaven” became a “no-brainer,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said.

“I think get the damn building down, because it’s just costing us too much money right now,” Councilmember Howard Springsteen said. “It gives us a clean slate there, and every time we turn around, another price jumps up.”

A total demolition will cost $250,000, according to town staff. The town hasn’t determined yet when the demolition will take place or how long it will take.

“There are still a lot of details that need to be worked out, including the bidding process for a contractor to do the demolition, permitting for demolition, etc., plans for how to use the property once the building comes down,” Vienna Public Information Director Karen Thayer said by email.

The property’s long-term future also remains up in the air.

The council decided to postpone a decision on whether to spend an additional $23,500 on a business planning and operational costs study recommended by consultants Kimmel Bogrette Architecture and Kimley Horn.

Hired in November, the consultants found clear support in the community for turning the site — now called the Annex — into a recreational facility, especially one with a swimming pool or fitness center, based on an online survey and public workshop.

The proposed study would give the town more concrete numbers for the costs and benefits of different recreational uses, Herman said.

Springsteen and Councilmember Ed Somers, who voted against the deferral, said it would be worth spending the requested funds now to get a better understanding of what will be feasible for the Annex. Somers noted that residents have regularly shown interest in an aquatics facility, including when the town renovated its community center.

“This isn’t something that’s like an idea three or four residents want. This is something that comes up from so many of our residents,” he said.

Other council members worried that commissioning the study would be “premature” with town staff preparing to develop a new parks master plan, one of the council’s top priorities for this year.

Herman informed the council that the parks master plan study isn’t expected to begin until this fall, potentially finishing around December 2024 — a surprise to members who had been under the impression that it would be completed this December.

“I did think it was going to be this year,” said Councilmember Steve Potter, who won’t seek reelection this November. “This, again, I think strengthens that [the Annex] is not a time-sensitive issue.”

David Samba, a project manager with Kimley Horn, said the master planning process can be done in less time, but it could affect how much public engagement the consultant can conduct, among other potential trade-offs.

The council voted to postpone an approval of the operational study funding until town staff can present a clearer timeline for the parks master plan, which will evaluate the existing facilities and potential needs for all of Vienna.

“I want to get some more information and get this back to the table,” Councilmember Nisha Patel said.