Oak Ridge UU church has July 14 groundbreaking at new site

Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church Site

The Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church will have a July 14 groundbreaking ceremony at its new 4.6-acre home in front of the Joe L. Evins Federal Building, at right in background, on Oak Ridge Turnpike.

Moving across town to make way for a new shopping center, members of the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church will have a July 14 groundbreaking ceremony at their new home in front of the Federal Building on Oak Ridge Turnpike.

Church members announced in late February that they had purchased a 4.6-acre parcel at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Laboratory Road in front of the Joe L. Evins Federal Building, which is used by the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge Office. They plan to be in a new building there by Thanksgiving 2014.

“Not only will our new building support the ongoing mission of our church in bigger and better ways, its functional spaces will enhance our outreach to the larger Oak Ridge community even more in the future than we have over the last 61 years,” the Rev. Jake Morrill said in a Friday morning press release. “This is a congregation with a heart for service.”

For more than six decades, the congregation of 260 members has been in a heavily used church at the intersection of Oak Ridge Turnpike and Robertsville Road. But in a deal arranged by commercial developers Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial, the church agreed in September to sell that 3.6-acre site to make way for a new Kroger Marketplace shopping center in the heart of the city.

The groundbreaking ceremony starts at 5 p.m. July 14 at 809 Oak Ridge Turnpike, the ORUUC said in a Friday morning press release. The public is invited to attend, and there will be a 5:30 p.m. potluck dinner after the groundbreaking ceremony at the current church at 1500 Oak Ridge Turnpike. Barbecue and buns will be provided, the press release said, but those who attend are invited to bring a side dish to share.

The church’s current property could be used as outparcels, or small lots, at the new $30 million shopping center, which has been named the Westcott Center in honor of Ed Westcott, the official government photographer in Oak Ridge during the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II.

ORUUC has been located at the Robertsville Road site—a serene, wooded tract in the center of Oak Ridge—since 1956.

The church said it continues to grow in membership and impact, including through a community ministry, such as Ecumenical Storehouse and Tabitha’s Table, while adding ministries such as its own “Stone Soup” meals program, which feeds an average of 100 people on the last Friday of each month. ORUUC has a long-established “Mighty Choir,” to which Music Director Wendel Werner has added well-attended public events, such as the community sing by Ysaye Barnwell, and a music-based outreach ministry, sending members out to local retirement centers and nursing homes to serve people through song, the press release said.

The 25-acre Kroger shopping center could open early in 2014 at one of the city’s busiest intersections at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Illinois Avenue. It will feature a 113,000-square-foot Kroger Marketplace and 12,000 square feet of small shop space, as well as four to five small lots with unidentified tenants.

The Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church congregation was established in 1950, launched its first building campaign in 1956, and finished a project in 1997 that expanded its current building by almost one-third and added a sanctuary.

For more information about the groundbreaking ceremony or the potluck dinner, call the ORUUC office at (865) 483-6761.

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  • Jason Allison

    Nice to see unused land put to good use

    • Sam Hopwood

      As a church they are tax exempt.

      • Jason Allison

        Not sure what that has to do with them occupying unused land……..

        • Sam Hopwood

          The land they bought was on the tax rolls. it will not be taxed now. In my view church property should be taxed as any other and I say that as a member of a church.

          • Charlie Jernigan

            It seems like there is more than one way to value land.

            In this case the formerly unused property will be put to good use by having an active church relocate to it. Oak Ridge does seem to value its churches.

            Sure the undeveloped property will go off the tax rolls but the church’s former location will go on the tax rolls as part of a large, high valued (both from a property tax and from a value to the community point of view) development that is likely to produce a lot of sales taxes which is a valuable and needed bonus for Oak Ridge.

            If you want to go after non-profit’s property taxes, how ’bout starting with undeveloped federal government property being valued at its current price for setting the standard for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes contribution to the host community.

          • Sam Hopwood

            In my view I’d rather see church’s voluntarily pay their fair share of taxes instead of asking Uncle Sugar to spoon feed us more. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Surely we can stand on our own two feet if we will just try, don’t you think? But, then again, maybe not.

          • Charlie Jernigan

            Churches are not preventing us from developing huge portions of undeveloped property here in Oak Ridge. Paying for that right is hardly spoon feeding.

          • Angi Agle

            Excellent point, Charlie. First thing that comes to mind is the hundreds (if not thousands) of acres of lakefront property that would produce enough property tax revenue to solve a world of problems… and recruit a large number of residents who are currently choosing Knox, Roane, and Loudon counties for their available lakefront.

          • Sam Hopwood

            Completely disagree. We already have “industrial parks” that are essentially empty after years of begging companies to locate here. Whatever we are doing is NOT working. Few, if any, people are interested in locating along cold and narrow Melton Lake. These are the same tired old arguments that we have heard for decades. Blame it all on Uncle Sugar. We are what we are, a retirement community. We do have one growth industry, assisted living. We need to take off those sunglasses that keep us from facing reality. … Just my view.

          • Charlie Jernigan

            I guess we all have those things we hold sacred and we each have our view of the future.

          • Jason Allison

            I guess maybe we should not let them move and make them disband????? This parcel has sat unused for how long? It’s quite obvious no one was interested in using it in any fashion. I’m happy they chose this land and welcome them to their new home.

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