Mt. Bethel Christian Academy opened in 1998 with just a kindergarten program and added a grade each year through 2005, when the original class hit eighth grade. But there was no land available in east Cobb to start a high school program.
“We’ve been working on this for several years — trying to open an upper school,” said Jim Callis, head of school at Mt. Bethel Christian Academy.
Almost a decade later, the purchase of the former Marcus Jewish Community Center property opens the door. The school will open this fall with 40 ninth-graders, and plans again call for adding a grade per year to grow into a full high school.
Organizers see the school eventually reaching 450 students. The K-8 school now serves 550 students.
“This property first came to our attention in December 2012,” Callis said. “Price was the easy part. We had to go through rezoning and a capital campaign to raise funds.”
Callis said Mt. Bethel looked at several properties over the years, but they often had to compete against developers, who he said “tend to have deeper pockets.”
The property sits at 2509 Post Oak Tritt Road, six miles north of the Mt. Bethel church and the current Mt. Bethel Christian Academy campus on Lower Roswell Road. Mt. Bethel Senior Pastor Randy Mickler said the new campus will also serve as a northern branch of the church itself.
“We’ll have worship services in the gymnasium,” he said. “We’re going to use it with our recreation ministry now. We’ll have swimming lessons starting the first week in June. We’re going to use the ball fields for practice for all kinds of clubs that are around.”
Price of the sale was not disclosed. Mickler is starting his 27th year at Mt. Bethel and has seen the church grow from 1,200 members to around 9,600.
The park includes a 25,000-square-foot multi-purpose building with classrooms, a gym, fitness center, outdoor Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis courts, youth football fields and a five-acre lake.
“The Marcus Jewish Community Center told me their demographics shifted a little bit, and they wanted to take funds from that facility and invest them in the Dunwoody campus and other areas,” said Callis.
The park property was originally purchased by the Marcus Jewish Community Center in 1986, and the preschool building was finished in 1989.
Two of the park’s biggest programs were The Sunshine Preschool, which was relocated in 2010 to Temple Kol Emeth off Old Canton Road, and Camp Chai, which was merged with a similar camp in Dunwoody.
“The successful sale of property in east Cobb will help us move toward our goal of continued operational efficiency for the agency,” said Doug Kuniansky, president of the MJCCA, in a news release. “The MJCCA remains committed to the east Cobb community and will continue to provide programs and services to the entire Atlanta community, including east Cobb.”
According to Callis, there aren’t any faith-based high schools in the east Cobb area.
Renovations are planned at the campus, which has sat mostly unused for years, and will be finished in time for the 2014-15 school year. Once the school reaches about 180 students, additional renovations will be needed, such as adding new classrooms.
The campus does not include a football stadium.
“We certainly want to play football, but it will take two or three years to get serious,” Callis said. “In the meantime, we can offer court sports this year: basketball, volleyball, golf, tennis and swimming. We’ll potentially have shooting sports as well, such as skeet and trap shooting. In year two, we’ll add field sports, specifically soccer and lacrosse. Football is year three or further out.”
Mt. Bethel Christian Academy students are not required to be members of Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church, though Callis said about one-third are church members. He said the school is built on the evangelical model, meaning anyone is welcome.
“All faculty and staff are Christians, but families are not required to be,” said Callis.
Mickler has big plans for the school.
“We want this to be an outreach to the whole community out here,” he said. “It’s going to be a place where people can grow spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. It’s a dream come true.”