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Oak Hill Baptist Church, 4141 University Ave. NE, Columbia Heights, will be purchased by Prodeo Academy this fall. (Photo submitted)

What was once Oakwood Elementary School and is currently Oak Hill Baptist Church in Columbia Heights will return to its educational roots next school year.

After 44 years, Oak Hill Baptist Church is closing the doors at its current location, 4141 University Ave. NE, this fall. In its place will be Prodeo Academy, a public pre-K through eighth grade charter school currently in Minneapolis. Prodeo intends to demolish the existing Oak Hill building due to its poor condition.

The Columbia Heights City Council will vote in September on whether to issue a conduit bond to help Prodeo with financing, an issue that has generated some controversy.

Remembering Oak Hill

The church is moving because the building has become too expensive to maintain with its century-old deterioration, Pastor Emeritus David Briley said.

Briley has been part of the church since 1973. In that time, he’s been involved in marriages, baptisms and funerals and plenty of weekly services.

“My memories (of the church) are seeing many adults and children come to Christ,” he said.

Oak Hill’s ministry will continue at a new, temporary space this fall. That location is yet to be determined.

“We’re thinking that will be the end of September or early October,” Briley said.

Oak Hill is hosting an event to celebrate the church’s history at its current location. Current and former members, as well as Oakwood Elementary alumni, are invited to the church 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, to tour the building and share memories. A service will be 1-2:30 p.m. Tours are offered until 4 p.m.

‘The best choices for kids’

On Sept. 9 the Columbia Heights City Council will vote on whether to issue Prodeo a conduit bond. The council unanimously voted to give preliminary approval Aug. 12.

“Our goal is to provide the best choices for kids,” Mayor Donna Schmitt said after voting in favor of issuing the bond. “This isn’t for the money, it’s for the children.”

Prodeo requested the city issue a conduit bond of $22 million to $24 million, which would generate a one-time issuer fee of $220,000 to $240,000 payable to the city.

A conduit bond is initiated by and issued for private entities. The city would not pay any costs related to the transaction. The responsibility of the debt would be on Prodeo.

The transaction would mostly be handled by Prodeo Academy and the initial purchaser, but the City Council must approve the issuance.

During a public hearing Aug. 12, many community members voiced their opinions for and against Prodeo coming to Columbia Heights. However, the decision of moving to Columbia Heights is up to Prodeo, not the City Council. The council only has a say in whether to issue the bond.

If the council denies Prodeo the bond Sept. 9, the academy has other options to obtain it, such as asking the Anoka County Board, said Community Development Director Aaron Chirpich.

“There are other entities they could work with to secure the same financing,” Chirpich said.

Back to its roots

Prodeo originally had its school in Columbia Heights, but moved to Minneapolis when the academy outgrew its space, said co-founder Rick Campion.

Prodeo has again outgrown its location in Minneapolis. With Oak Hill having been a school in the past, Campion said he’s happy to return to the property’s original purpose.

However, the state of the current building is too poor to house the new school, Campion said.

“We’re not able to salvage the building,” he said. “I tried to. I asked several different construction companies to walk through it with me, and they said we need to build new there.”

Prodeo looked for property to purchase all around the Twin Cities, and it landed on Columbia Heights because of its available lot.

“If I could pick an ideal place for our school to be, that would be it,” Campion said. “So we’re very lucky.”

After Prodeo’s purchase of Oak Hill is finalized later this year, construction is expected to last until next summer.

Prodeo will continue operating in its warehouse location, 630 Olson Memorial Highway, Minneapolis, for the 2019-20 school year.

The academy expects to reach full capacity once school is in session in Columbia Heights next fall.

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