By JOHN FORTMEYER
CORNELIUS — The people behind a longtime Christian school here still have the faith that could bring a miracle, but acknowledge it will probably take a miracle for them to retain ownership of their 15-year-old building.
Emmaus Christian School, a fixture in this end of Washington County since 1978, recently listed for sale the 32,000-square-foot building at 460 S. Heather St. that it built and first occupied by 2000. While school officials are praying that something works out for Emmaus Christian to hang on to the building, they also are facing a financial wall.
“We would love to keep the building, but realistically can’t meet the building payment,” said David Purcell, a career Christian educator now in his sixth year as principal at Emmaus. He said the school’s 25-year contract calls for payments of $20,000 per month.
“We have more expenses than we can carry,” he said.
The building is listed for $3.4 million, and the school is already negotiating with a prospective buyer. At the same time, Emmaus Christian is scouting potential locations to rent or lease should the school wind up moving after the current academic year ends.
The school currently has 157 students in preschool through eighth grades, served by about 25 teachers and staff.
The school operated in three earlier locations — Bible Church of Dilley, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Forest Gove and Community Baptist Church in Cornelius — before constructing its own building.
About half the current building was done through largely volunteer labor, and then the second half of the structure was added and opened in 2003. Enrollment peaked at about 220 students in 2004-05, but like many private schools, Emmaus saw a decrease in students as the Great Recession hit in the latter part of the last decade.
“One of the loan officers we talked to said that we’re like a middle class family with too big a home,” said Purcell.
He said the school last year struggled seriously financially but made it through by cutting some support and maintenance staff and also with all employees accepting a reduction in pay. Furthermore, about $175,000 was raised by parents and friends of the school.
But this school year Emmaus is facing a $200,000 shortfall. Purcell said the school has been up-front with staff and parents, keeping them well aware of the situation. He said staff have shown intense dedication through the struggles.
“We’re hoping that people will pray for us,” said Purcell, who acknowledged that in his many years as a Christian school administrator, he has never faced as big a financial challenge. “We believe that if people are aware, they can put us on their prayer list.
“And if people have a heart for Christian education and can help us with donations, we’d love to have them help us.”
Special prayer meetings are held every Wednesday for the school. For more information, contact Purcell at 503-357-4054 or go to www.myecs.org