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Grace Christian's on the move

After 48 years in the location where it was born and raised, Grace Christian School is making plans to move a year from now.

The private Christian elementary school and early-education program is graduating from its place in Medford’s First Baptist Church to an 85,000-square-foot building with Pepsi Bottling Group and a Costco distribution center for new neighbors.

For now, the building at 555 Airport Road is true in appearance to the industrial zone it occupies. Brick walls two stories high guard a workspace currently being rented out to manufacturing company Kathrein Inc., Scala Division. As he walks through it, Dave Fennell, the school’s director of advancement, passes sliding metal supply doors and heavy-duty shelf racks stacked with saran-wrapped bundles of various building material and lumber planks.

He points out plans as he moves: Here’s where an auditorium will go. The gym area might be able to fit three basketball courts sized for elementary or middle school students. Here is where he suggested they put in an indoor playground.

Fennell said that Grace Christian’s desires for increased space and tighter security helped drive the school’s search for a new location.

First Baptist’s close proximity to Chase Bank, at 601 Crater Lake Ave., has made school officials increasingly uneasy about security, Fennell said. On Nov. 9, 2017, a Grace Christian groundskeeper was injured after a bank robber hijacked his Chevy Suburban to flee from police.

The elementary school has found its home at the church since church leaders established the school in 1974. Fennell said as the school grew, adding first pre-kindergarten and eventually establishing an accredited early education program, its demand for space grew as well — like a child growing out of a parent’s home, he said.

“There comes a time when it’s time for you to move out,” he said. “And the schools have the full blessing of the church.”

The new facility formerly belonged to Kathrein Inc., Scala Division before board member Reid Murphy led the effort to organize a limited liability company called Airport Road LLC. It bought the property from the manufacturing company in December 2017 for $3.64 million, according to Jackson County property records. Airport Road is renting the space back to Kathrein Inc., Scala Division until the school’s renovation effort begins.

The school’s move to that building required approval of the Medford Planning Commission and the City Council of a conditional use permit and amendment to the designation in the general land use plan for the 4.36 acres.

Matt Brinkley, planning director, said the commission doesn’t commonly deal with requests to change the general land use plan. That’s partly because the process is detailed and takes into account projections up to 20 years into the future in several criteria: economic opportunities and transportation infrastructure, for two examples.

“In this particular case you have a corridor that is really becoming more commercial in nature, in the immediate vicinity of the airport,” he said.

The commission recommended the City Council approve the amendment, which it did at its meeting Aug. 16.

Fennell said the school’s steering committee organizing the move hope to finish building upgrades by the start of the 2019-2020 school year. They’ll also launch a fundraising campaign to help cover the estimated $3 million to $5 million cost.

Grace Christian has a community mindset in pursuing its growing future and wants to keep tuition as low as possible, Fennell said. According to its website, tuition for the 2018-19 school year is $2,900 for pre-school and $5,965 for full kindergarten through fifth grade.

“What our board does not want to become is an elite school that prices people out from being able to go there,” Fennell said. “We want our kids to understand they are being educated and prepared, but that’s happening so they can be a blessing to others.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneDave Fennell shows where the gym will be built for Grace Christian Elementary in a building purchased on Airport Road in Medford.