Facing a court battle on its eviction in less than a week, the church pastored by a Charleston County School Board member reached an agreement Friday that will allow it to use a school building for 30 more days while it finds a new location.
School officials say the deal will save the district money in legal fees and provide a quick resolution to a potentially lengthy eviction process.
“This was the best solution,” said board member Chris Fraser, who led the Friday meeting on the issue. “We’re ready to put the whole thing behind us and move on. We’ve got work to do relevant to education, and this is just a distraction.”
The Healing Ministries Church that is led by school board member Chris Collins was supposed to leave the former Charlestowne Academy building in North Charleston on June 30, but they still are using the space.
Church leaders have known since November that their lease would expire that date, but they have been fighting to stay in the space. Collins turned in a check to cover July’s rent for the church on July 8, although it didn’t have the OK to use the building that month.
The district hired an attorney to help it evict the church, and a court hearing was set for Tuesday.
On Friday, the church agreed to leave the premises in 30 days. It promised to pay rent, maintain insurance and abide by the terms of the lease, and it agreed not to appeal the agreement.
Collins wrote in an e-mail that he was willing to talk about the situation, but he wanted to have a sit-down conversation that included the church’s attorney, Richard Burke. Scheduling conflicts prevented that from happening Friday afternoon.
Burke said the church was pleased to be able to work out an agreement that was fair and equitable to both sides.
“This resolution allows the church reasonable time to find a new home for its members and ministry, and it obviates the need for further litigation, the time and expense of which were recognized not to be in the best interests of either party,” he said.
A judge will decide whether to accept the agreement, but district officials didn’t see any reason why that wouldn’t happen. If the judge consents and the church refused to leave in 30 days, law enforcement could remove them from the property without a hearing.
The school board unanimously agreed to the deal. Neither Collins nor board member Elizabeth Moffly participated in the vote or discussion.
If the board hadn’t signed off on the deal, the situation easily could’ve lasted longer than the 30-day mark, said district attorney John Emerson. For example, a judge could’ve delayed making a decision, or the losing party could’ve appealed the decision.
Fraser, who works in commercial real estate, said evictions are not a “slam-dunk process,” and there was no guarantee this one would’ve gone smoothly. The board spent less than 15 minutes talking about it before agreeing this was the most cost-effective and expeditious solution, he said.
The church has paid $664 per month to use the former school building in North Charleston since February 2010. The board asked the church to leave after it apparently violated its lease with the district, with officials citing concerns about the way it used the space, the amount of time it used the building, and whether it had insurance.
The church still owes the district $655 for using the space 16 hours more than the lease permitted during December and January. District officials are in the process of calculating fees for over-usage since then.
The board’s decision Friday doesn’t address that debt. Fraser said he would be inclined to not pursue collecting that money because it would cost more in legal fees than the district would recoup. The board ultimately will decide what to do.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.