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Church use of Community Center will help erase deficit
• Big Valley Grace Church to open satellite church in Ceres
Ceres Community Center BVG
The Ceres Community Center will be rented out on Sundays to Big Valley Grace Christian Church. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Under a two-year agreement approved Monday by the Ceres City Council, the Community Center will be rented out on Sundays so that Big Valley Grace Community Church may hold services in Ceres.

The revenue from the church rental will allow the city to significantly chip away at the operational deficit of the center, which has been a recent focus of the City Council. The city expects the revenue from the agreement to reduce the center’s red ink by approximately $60,368 annually.

In April, Big Valley Grace officials approached the city about using the Ceres Community Center for Sunday services for a satellite to their Modesto campus and other church-related activities after failing to find a place to rent in Ceres after a six-month search. Because the center is not currently open for Sunday rentals, city staff supported allowing the large church to conduct church services in the large assembly room and use the former Teen Room for office space, as well as other uses when the center is available to the public.

The city will charge Big Valley Grace church $5,300 per month ($53,000 each year) to hold weekly church services starting Sept. 1, or once audio/visual equipment is installed. The church will use the Community Center Sundays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for weekly services; and on Mondays 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. for Bible study and the breakdown of classrooms. The church will not use the office area, utility/storage closets, the City Council dais, and the computer lab room.

The church is also agreeing to pay the city $1,500 per month (or $17,250 annually) for the sole and exclusive use of the Community Room (former Teen Room), starting July 15. Use of that office space will be limited to Community Center operation hours, which is Mondays through Thursdays, 8:30 a.m. to- 7:30 p.m.; Fridays through Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Sunday as determined by use.

The church also wants to use other rooms for programs at an annual cost of $12,000.

The grand total that Big Valley is willing to shell out comes to $82,250 per year, or $6,854 per month. The rent would increase two percent each July 1. The rental is expected to add $21,882 to the city’s costs for janitorial, supplies and part-time staff costs. The city expects to benefit by $60,368 annually which will go toward the operational deficit on the center.

City Manager Toby Wells said the center was expected to have an operational deficit of $113,281 for fiscal year 2019-20 but the revenue from the church will drop that to about $53,000.

“We would hope to beat both of these numbers (increased revenue and lower expenditures) to get closer to being balanced by the end of the fiscal year,” said Wells after the meeting.

Because the church wants to use the large meeting room to hold services and the city doesn’t have an upgraded audio-visual system – and has lost business because of it – the church is willing to buy $45,000 to $50,000 for upgraded equipment. Once the equipment is installed, the city will own it. The city will pay for the design and installation of the A/V system at an unknown cost.

Recreation Manager Matthew Lohr said the major upgrade to the A/V system will make the center more attractive for prospective weekday rentals by businesses and corporations.

“Over the past couple of years, the city has lost some business rentals owing to the A/V system not meeting the technological standards required,” said Lohr. One of those losses was Save Mart Corporation.

“Our audio-visual hasn’t been up to their standards,” explained Lohr.

The A/V upgrade will include new TV monitors in the smaller assembly room, or the City Council Chambers. Lohr said he expects the church to operate childcare in the small assembly room with services being offered on closed circuit monitors.

During recent budget discussions, the City Council expressed a desire to see the Community Center pull itself out of perpetual red ink – a problem since the center opened. City Manager Toby Wells said the center is operating at a narrower debt gap, pointing out that the center was going into debt annually at a rate of $250,000 but now projected to be around $120,000.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno made it clear that the city needs to continue making the upstairs room available on Monday mornings for Young at Heart fitness classes for seniors. Lohr said the church’s men’s Bible Study will likely take place in the small assembly room on Monday mornings. That study has been attracting an estimated 80 to 90 participants.

The city has rented out the center for other religious events, such as Friday night Jehovah’s Witnesses conferences. Councilman Channce Condit said he doesn’t want the city to show preferences to any faiths and said others should be given consideration based on availability. Lohr said if the center is not available, he would direct churches to the American Legion Memorial Building or Ceres Unified School District facilities.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he met with church leaders and applauded the partnership in light of all the good things the church is doing in the community.

“It just seemed like something that is very positive for our community,” said Vierra.  He added that the agreement keeps the center “fiscally viable, which has been a challenge for us for a while.”

He cited the irony of the center being on the site of Ceres Christian Church before in was razed in the 1990s

Ceres resident Lou Sims turned out at Monday’s meeting and was happy about the council action. He attends Big Valley at its north Modesto campus and said the new location means Ceres members won’t have to travel so far for church.