Private school eyes church property

CONYERS - A lease agreement between Philadelphia Baptist Church and a Stone Mountain-based ministry would keep property the church owns on Old Covington Highway a location for a church and private school.

Philadelphia Baptist Church will seek a special-use permit next month that would allow Unity of Faith Christian Ministries to operate its private school, called His Academy Christian Schools of Excellence, according to applications filed with the Rockdale County planning office.

The Rockdale County Department of Public Services and Engineering is accepting written comments on the special-use permit request in advance of the first public hearing on Sept. 11.

Following a second public hearing Sept. 25, the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners will take action on the request.

According to county zoning ordinances, a special-use permit goes with the applicant. In other words, a new entity is required to apply for a special-use permit even if it plans to have the same operations that have occurred on the property in the past.

Unity of Faith Christian Ministries is located at 6788 Rockbridge Road in Stone Mountain. According the ministry's Web site, www.unityoffaith.org, His Academy offers classes for grades kindergarten through 12, including college preparatory curriculum.

Philadelphia Baptist Church announced last year it was moving to the former Rutledge Academy property in Morgan County after 35 years at the same location in Rockdale. The church had planned to operate the two campuses this year to finish out the school year, then move to the Rutledge property in the fall.

Steve Love, senior pastor at Philadelphia Baptist Church, said the church congregation has moved eastward, and school attendance has dropped in recent years. The Rutledge property was donated to them and allowed the church to move closer to most of its members.

The church and school sit side by side on six acres in western Rockdale County in a largely industrial area on Old Covington Highway. The church's property is zoned residential.

"(The property) served us well because of the access to the freeway, and that's been a real blessing for us," Love said. "But we've been given the opportunity to relocate, so in doing that we would like to see the building used for the same use."

Philadelphia Christian School, an accredited college preparatory academy, was established in 1975, shortly after the church moved 30 miles east into Rockdale County from Atlanta.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones