BRATTLEBORO — The owner of a local high-tech firm has entered into a purchase and sale agreement to buy the First Baptist Church building on Main Street.
On Sunday, Jan. 24, at its annual meeting, the congregation voted to enter into the agreement with Bob Johnson, founder of Omega Optical. Delta Epsilon, the parent company of Omega, also owns the Stone Church at 210 Main Street. Omega Optical has a campus on Omega Drive, on Route 5 in south Brattleboro.
First Baptist Church has been struggling with a declining membership and also with the rising costs of keeping the building warm in the winter and maintaining the 150-year-old structure. Last year, an offer of $200,000 was made for the building, though it is unclear at this time if that offer was from Johnson. The town assessed the building and property at $890,000 and a recent independent appraisal put the value at $375,000.
In 2010, church members voted to sell a signed Tiffany stained-glass window that was installed in the church in 1896 in honor of Brattleboro resident Levi Knight Fuller, who was governor from 1892 to 1894. The stained glass window depicted St. John the Divine and was created by the Tiffany Studios in New York City. The window was purchased by a collector, who was assembling a display of stained-glass windows for the Halim Time and Glass Museum in Evanston, Ill. It sold for $85,000, $50,000 of which was used to pay for repairs to the church's slate roof.
"Even though the decision was very hard," said Pastor Suzanne Andrews, "a church is really the people. We are going to be OK, though it was terribly hard for us. As the pastor, I think it was a good decision."
Andrews said upkeep of the building prohibited the congregation for caring for it in an appropriate manner. At one point, the condition of the building almost prevented the Winter Overflow Shelter from opening in the church's basement. The shelter has been in the church for the past nine years and is staffed by volunteers trained by Groundworks Collaborative.
Andrews said it was not yet known whether the congregation will remain in the building after the sale goes through, which could be later this year.
"Whether we stay on Main Street or we move on, we are going to survive. No matter where God leads us, we will follow."
Neither Johnson nor Karen Davis, chairwoman of First Baptist Church's board of trustees was available Monday afternoon.