The new property of the Jefferson City Catholic Diocese has lots of possibilities.
The diocese signed a contract with Bristol Lake LLC for the sale of 22.6 acres within the former Philips farm, now known as the Bristol Lake Development. Although the diocese has expressed the need for a church, school and church office buildings, The Rev. Greg Higley said a precise plan for the property’s use has yet to be determined.
“I can’t speculate,” said Higley, vicar general of the diocese. “But whatever could come about would require land.”
The contract is for the southern part of what is known as Tract 4 in the Bristol Lake Development. The acreage is on the south side of Bristol Lake and is next to land that will become the city-owned Philips Park. John John, the development company’s real estate agent, said at least three other organizations were interested in the land.
“We had discussions with other church organizations, and we could only do one,” said John, who is also the Fifth Ward representative on the Columbia City Council. “We thought we had at least a general understanding of what (the diocese) wanted to do.” Neither Higley nor John would disclose the purchase price for the property.
The land is zoned for planned office uses. John said that zoning would allow the diocese to put a church, a school or offices on the land without requesting rezoning. The site, however, would not accommodate all three needs.
The diocese is looking into the possibility of building a Catholic high school somewhere in Columbia, Higley said, and has formed the Columbia Interparish Study Committee to study the status of and potential need for more Catholic schools in the Columbia area.
“We’re looking at both the elementary and high school levels,” said committee member and Our Lady of Lourdes Monsignor Michael Flanagan. “Some people want more space for elementary schools.”
The committee has distributed professional surveys to assess parishioners’ opinions on Catholic schooling. According to a Sept. 22 Missourian article, the committee found that 73 percent of Catholics would send their children to a Catholic high school in Columbia if one existed. Flanagan said surveys also show interest in expanding middle schools.
“For any development we will have to have strong community support,” Higley said. “We can’t just do it arbitrarily.”
The committee is also examining factors such as the Catholic community’s finances and population growth in southern Columbia, Ashland and Hartsburg.
“It’s well known that the population in Boone County and Columbia is growing at least 1 percent a year,” Flanagan said. “Any church has to plan for growth too, to keep up with that.”
Flanagan said the committee will make a recommendation to Bishop John Gaydos in February, prioritizing the needs for a Catholic high school and expanding the middle school.
“Bishop Gaydos is really giving the committee time to formulate strong recommendations,” Higley said. “The bishop is going to rely heavily on the committee.”
Mark Farnen, spokesman for Philips farm developer Elvin Sapp, said the project will be well received regardless of the decision the diocese makes.
“I think this is a good-news project,” Farnen said. “Some people had fear about what Gans Road would look like. … I think most area residents will be supportive.”
Last spring, city council annexed the 489-acre Philips farm after months of public debate. Sapp plans a mix of residential, commercial and office uses on the property, while the city will develop a park on the land surrounding the lake.