The city of Westwood has acquired the now-closed Westwood Christian Church at 5050 Rainbow Blvd. with an eye toward possibly using the property to expand the adjacent city park and/or school grounds. But the city doesn’t yet know how it will pay the $425,000 bill.
City Clerk Fred Sherman said that as church membership dwindled, former City Council members had had discussions with the remaining leaders about acquiring the property. Last year, the council commissioned Doug Pickert, a landscape architect and owner of DeSoto, Kan.-based Indigo Design, to study the possibilities for renovating the park, including use of the adjacent church property.
This spring, the council approved a $425,000, three-year lease-purchase agreement to acquire the church and its surrounding grounds.
The church property itself was bought for $400,000, Sherman said. The remaining $25,000 covers closing costs.
That’s a large expenditure, compared to Westwood’s $2.1 million annual operating budget, but Sherman said the city has three years to figure out how to pay for it.
“It’s to be determined how we will pay for it,” Sherman said. “As a city, we can’t go get a mortgage. We can issue bonded debt, which would require a vote, or we can make a lease-purchase arrangement. We don’t have to all of a sudden come up with the cash. Now we have three years to plan how to pay for it as part of the city’s overall capital improvement plans.”
“After budget season the city will begin the process of working toward revising our Comprehensive Plan,” Mayor John Ye said in an email. “The Comprehensive Plan will seek public input and feedback from staff, (Westwood) Foundation board and the Planning Commission.”
The city website says the Westwood Foundation is a non-profit corporation established in 1974 “to provide charitable, educational and benevolent support to the greater Westwood community.” It “acts as an extension of city government with specific items mentioned in the Articles of Incorporation being scholarship, housing, and recreational opportunities for citizens of Westwood.”
Joe D. Dennis Park on the southwest corner of 50th Street and Rainbow Boulevard was developed in 1973 and renamed in 2002 to honor a former mayor. While playground equipment there has been replaced, Sherman said the tennis court, which was designed to hold water and double as a skating rink in the winter, has deteriorated, and the park has never had a major redesign.
Westwood View Elementary School is immediately west of the old church.
Mayor Ye said that “conversations have been had with the (Shawnee Mission School District) Superintendent and the Johnson County Librarian. The city has made a conscious effort to collaborate and work closely with the county and the school district. Like most cities, past planning was done with these important groups at a distance. We plan to invite them to be part of an inclusive process.”
Ye said it was too early to say what he thinks should be done with the former church property. Both keeping and tearing down the church are being considered.
“The possibilities at this time are limitless; school addition/expansion, new library, renovated park space, area community center,” Ye wrote. “These are all possibilities that would enhance the area and invite new families to move here.”
The church building is now locked up, but in the past it has been opened to allow people attending city-sponsored events at Joe D. Dennis Park to use its bathrooms. The park has no restrooms of its own. The church bathrooms, however, are not handicapped-accessible.
According to its cornerstone, the main part of the church was built in 1951, and the sanctuary was added in 1962. Sherman said the building remains “structurally sound.”