Alachua County has decided to explore the purchase of a church property in High Springs with a vision for a joint community services hub operated in partnership with Newberry, High Springs and the City of Alachua.
Fellowship Baptist Church is moving to a new location and has listed the 1991 property with the Thomas Group. The buildings total 35,000 square feet and were originally listed for $3.5 million with 20 acres. The county is considering the buildings and a nine-acre parcel.
The church is located at 16916 NW U.S. Highway 441 and comes with a 10,000 square foot gym with a full kitchen, more than 30 offices, conference and activity rooms and eight bathrooms.
James Harriott, deputy county manager for public works and growth management, told the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) that the opportunity represents a chance to address some needs in the northwest area of the county.
"It does have potential," Harriott said.
So far, the Alachua County Health Department, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, St. Madeleine's Outreach and Family Promise are among the organizations that have expressed an interest in operating out of the location, Harriott said.
County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete estimated that it will cost $104,100 and take at least 60 days for the county to carry out due diligence, inspect the property and obtain at least two appraisals. The appraisal results would drive the price if the county ends up making an offer.
Members of the BOCC who toured the facility said they see potential in the location and what the property amenities offer.
"I think it's wonderful," Commissioner Mary Alford said. "There is a huge need, and that's where people are moving to get affordable homes."
Commissioner Anna Prizzia called it the "right idea at the right time" and added that tending to residents' basic needs is a priority—including mental health, health services and food accessibility.
Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler noted that the original $3.5 million asking price was based on 20 acres of property. "We can do better on the price, and we should try," she said.
Tommy Crosby, assistant county manager for budget and fiscal services, reminded the BOCC that it's been a challenging year.
"It's not in the budget, not been planned," he said. "We could borrow over 10 years," he suggested. If not, Crosby said,"It's gonna hit the general fund. We need to consider that before you make the decision."
The BOCC voted to direct staff to negotiate a holding contract for 90 days, and Commission Chair Ken Cornell said he has already started discussions with the mayors of High Springs, Alachua and Newberry, who are adding the topic to upcoming meeting agendas.
"I talked to all three mayors," Cornell said. "I'm looking for a county commitment to make a one-time purchase, but cities need to enter a 10-year operating contract. We need the communities to commit."