Charleston County School Board votes to terminate lease agreement with board member’s church
Charleston County School Board member Chris Collins agreed Monday to expel his own church from a former school building by next summer.
The board unanimously voted to end its lease agreement with Healing Ministries Baptist Church in June 2013. Collins is pastor of the church and signed its lease with the district to use the former Charlestowne Academy building on Rivers Avenue.
“I think that’s a pretty good deal,” Collins said. “They’re not kicking us out (immediately). That gives us time to get a plan for what we want to do.”
Collins said he wasn’t involved in the executive session discussion on his church’s lease, but he did participate in the open session vote. Although that might appear to be a conflict of interest to some, Collins said he’s a taxpaying citizen, and he has the same rights as anyone else.
Collins’ church seemed to have been violating its lease with the district for months. The church had permission to use former school building for 16 hours a month, but records indicated that the church had far exceeded that limit.
The board decided on Monday to require Collins’ church to set the building alarm when it’s not using the space, and any time that alarm is not set will be considered use of the building. The church will be charged at $41.50 per hour.
The church has paid $664 per month to use the space since February 2010.
Questions also have been raised about events hosted at the building. The church’s lease mandates that the building only be used for “church purposes,” but Collins said he’s allowed others to use it for birthday parties and charter school meetings.
Collins said he thought those kinds of gatherings would be allowed to continue. Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said after the meeting the district isn’t in the business of leasing space, and the board wasn’t going to attempt to rewrite the lease now.
She said she thought Collins’ church would make a good faith effort to use the space in the way in which the lease intended.
Collins’ lease also required his church to have insurance, but the church did not have proof of coverage until Oct. 10, which was after The Post and Courier began asking questions about its use of the building.
Of the eight board members at Monday night’s meeting — Elizabeth Moffly was absent — few commented on the church’s lease, and it was a relatively brief agenda item during the roughly four-hour meeting. Board member Todd Garrett asked whether the lease was costing the district more than the revenue it generated, and district leaders said the agreement wasn’t intended to recover 100 percent of the building’s operating cost.
Collins wasn’t sure what his church would do next, but he expected members to discuss the issue and approach the school board soon. The church could appeal the board’s decision, or it might make an offer to buy the building, he said.
Either way, he said it would have plenty of time to figure out its next steps, and the church wouldn’t shut down.
“The church is not the building,” he said. “That’s just where we meet.”
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.