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Waltham prep school buys neighboring shuttered church

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  September 9, 2011 03:06 PM

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The Waltham Covenant Congregational Church at 379 Lexington Street was purchased last week by the neighboring Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School.

A local day and boarding college preparatory school, Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School in Waltham, last week purchased a neighboring church building with ties to the school dating back 122 years, allowing the building to revert back to one of its original historical uses, according to institution officials.

Founded and built in 1860, the chapel that recently housed the Waltham Covenant Congregational Church at 379 Lexington Street has shared close ties with the private school for 122 of the 150 years it had been open, according to school spokesman Gregory Abel.

However, the church closed its doors in December due to an increase in structural problems and a decrease in congregational interest, Abel said.

"They had their own set of problems - the building needed fixing, and their members were dwindling, so they closed last year," Abel said, citing specific structures like the roof and boiler as fixer-uppers.

The school's interest in the nearby church has more depth than just a convenient location to expand. Before being renamed and merged with the all-boys Chauncy Hall, the Chapel Hill School for girls was originally founded as Waltham New Church School in 1860 at the west end of the church’s chapel, according to the school's website.

"The church started the school, and now the school is taking the church. It’s kind of neat," Abel said.

After shuttering the church in 2010, the overseeing organization decided to sell the property to bidding groups, but also considered how the land and structure would be used, Abel said.

"We went through a bidding process, but they said they were not going to sell to the highest bidder," he said. "They also took into account the property use. They did not want something like new condominiums being built there."

School officials are still deciding how to integrate the space inside the church for institution use. The actual chapel - lined with oak pews, featuring high ceilings and stained glass window art - could serve as a public meeting hall for the school to rent to other organizations, or for educational lecture series, while other rooms in the church could make useful classroom or student study space, Abel said.

"It's up in the air – how do you preserve this space and make it useful?" Abel said. "The hope is to renovate it this year, and make it a part of the community.... We might hold a fundraising campaign. Maybe alums that were here when the church was an active partner might be interested in sponsoring a classroom."

Expanding its campus did not appear high on a list of things for the school to do, as the business model stands as more tuition-driven than donation-driven and thus lacked appropriate funds, Abel said.

"We're not a wealthy school that can just buy property – but this is a special case. This is more of a once in a lifetime opportunity," Abel said.

Head of School Lance Conrad said he did not wish to comment on how the school gathered funds to pay for the school.

"The Board of Trustees orchestrated the purchase of the chapel property," he said.

However, Conrad said he looks forward to using the space for student activities and classes.

"I want to keep a student-centered focus on how to create a wonderful socioacademic space," Conrad said. "The kids are excited to see this space come to life."

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