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CHRISTIAN SCHOOL Building for 9-12 to open this fall



Published: Mon, February 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The new school includes a gym that serves as a multipurpose and a stage area.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Thirty years ago, members of Highway Tabernacle in Austintown started a new school by buying an old school building in Youngstown.

This fall, Youngstown Christian School will respond to years of growing pains by opening a high school on the same property, making what the school's superintendent calls an "investment in Youngstown."

High schoolers will move into their new $2.5 million building in time for opening day of the 2005-06 school year. They will leave the 79-year-old building they've shared with the school's pre-school through eighth-grade pupils for a brand-new building with 13 classrooms, a full-size gymnasium and a small chapel.

And for the first time, pupils will have a real lunchroom in the new facility, said the Rev. Gary Johnston, school superintendent. In the current building, the custodian hauls folding tables in and out each day to fashion a makeshift cafeteria in the gym.

The new school's gym is a multipurpose that doubles as a stage area. "It's pretty, but functional," he said.

Fund raising

Youngstown Christian has raised more than $2 million to pay for the school. The fund-raising campaign started in 2003, and it got off to a slow start, the Rev. Mr. Johnston said.

At first, there was a question of where to build the new school. Youngstown Christian is affiliated with the Austintown church, but draws pupils from many areas, including Boardman, Canfield, Poland, Struthers and even western Pennsylvania.

"We have a great mixture," Mr. Johnston said. "It's really unique -- we have students from the suburb, students from the inner city. We really draw from everywhere."

After wrestling with the location question, planners settled on Youngstown because they felt that was where God had led them. Many of the decisions about the school were divinely inspired, Mr. Johnston said, including the capital campaign.

"It was truly one of my greatest faith challenges," said Mr. Johnston, whose background includes teaching, banking and the ministry. "We had no really clear idea where we would get the money. We beat the bushes and we just weren't getting what we needed."

At one "crisis point," Mr. Johnston said he prayed for guidance. "I said, 'Lord, don't you fund your work?'"

Within a day, he said, the answer came: The school got word of a private donation to the building fund: $1 million. Soon after, an additional $500,000 came in.

"That confirmed to me that this was the way to go," said Mr. Johnston, 51.

The fund-raising program continues, Mr. Johnston said. The steering committee's goal is to be debt-free, he added.

"It looks good," he said, "but we may find ourselves with a small mortgage."

More room

One of the most exciting changes for the school has nothing to do with the facility, Mr. Johnston said. Keeping high school students in the same building as pupils from the lower grades "isn't an ideal situation," Mr. Johnston said.

"Maybe it just doesn't seem like high school when you're in the same building," Mr. Johnston said. "I think it will make a real difference."

The school is making other steps toward a true high school experience, Mr. Johnston said. In 2004, the school's first football team took the field as a member of the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

"I think it more legitimized us," Mr. Johnston said.

The school plans to implement several programs when the school opens, including a diagnostic center for pupils who have fallen behind, an individualized advanced studies program and a leadership training center that will offer classes at night.




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