Lee University announced on Tuesday, December 4 a major campus expansion which will bring its borders to the heart of downtown Cleveland, incorporating a former downtown church campus.
Lee President Dr. Paul Conn spoke at the Cleveland Rotary Club where he gave details of the project and a gift from a local entrepreneur, which will be a catalyst to launch the expansion.
Conn said the university is preparing to move forward with the integration of the campus of the old First Baptist Church of Cleveland into its campus footprint. In 2010, Lee purchased the contiguous six acres of property which included the sanctuary, educational building, several outbuildings and parcels. First Baptist built a new campus on the northern part of town and moved to the new location in September 2010.
The expansion plan will include the renovation of the main sanctuary building into a music performance hall, the construction of a new academic building, and the demolition of a building which formerly housed retail space in Cleveland’s downtown area to make way for lawns and open “green space.”The key to the new plan is “a major gift of property and cash” from the Allan Jones Foundation. Allan Jones said, in a prepared statement, “It is our family’s pleasure to make this donation to Lee University, which will strengthen downtown Cleveland, higher education, and traditional family values.” Conn declined to reveal the amount of the gift, but announced that the renovated First Baptist sanctuary will be named “Pangle Hall” in honor of Janie Pangle Jones, Allan’s wife.
The opening of both the new music hall and the academic building will be scheduled for fall 2014, Conn said. “We are studying other universities which have recently remodeled old churches into performance venues. There are some good examples out there. The old First Baptist sanctuary is a classic, handsome building, and it is important to us and to the Jones family that this familiar structure not be altered unnecessarily.
“But there are some changes we will make, mostly inside, which will make it more suitable for larger musical events. And on the outside, we will remove the steeple and replace it with a cupola which will more faithfully reflect an academic style of building.”
Jones told the Cleveland Daily Banner “We have watched for many years the wonderful work Dr. Conn has done defining his campus with architecture. The continued expansion of Lee’s campus toward the traditional downtown area is a wonderful development for both Lee and historic Cleveland. The campus reminds me of the beautiful Ole Miss campus, and our family is proud to be a part of that.”
Conn said the first step in the new plan is “a significant amount of demolition” of structures within the extended campus footprint which will create new green, open sight lines and create room for new construction. Also on the schedule for eventual demolition are various small houses which lie between the core of the Lee campus and the new construction.
“We are grateful to the Jones family for this wonderful gift,” Conn said. “It is the final piece in the puzzle for us. We have lots of work to do, and it will take us three or four years to complete the overall plan, but now, thanks to this gift, we can begin.”
Conn reflected that the property slated for redevelopment has been an important part of downtown Cleveland life throughout his lifetime. “I worked at J.C. Penney’s when I was in high school,” he recalled, “and Allan Jones remembers watching when the steeple was erected at the First Baptist Church. This area is full of memories for all of us, and now we hope to redevelop it into something special for generations to come.”
The two other parts of the former First Baptist building will be used for a campus childcare center and additional classroom space for one of the university’s academic departments.
Lee University was founded by the Church of God on January 1, 1918 as Bible Training School with twelve students in the upstairs of the denomination’s publishing house. Next month the university will mark its 95th year as an academic institution. It currently has nearly 5,000 students from over 50 countries and a campus of more than 125 acres.