ELYRIA — A local church focused on community outreach is out of its building due to a building code violation.
The Beyond the Walls Church is holding services in its parking lot after receiving a cease-and-desist notice from the Elyria Building Department barring it from use of its Woodford Avenue facility until code violations are corrected. The church, where members feed the hungry and minister to the homeless, operates out of the old Roosevelt Elementary School, once owned by Elyria Schools.
The church first began leasing a portion of the school from the district in 2012, but last year won a bidding war for the property and bought the building for $50,000. Roosevelt School, built in 1922, closed in 2009 due to declining enrollment.
Pastor Paul Grodell said the cease-and-desist order caught the church off-guard, but it is committed to working with the city to come into compliance and get back into the building.
“The city said we can meet in the parking lot and the first weekend we were blessed with perfect weather,” he said. “We will continue to be prayerful, and hopefully we can work with the city.”
Darryl Farkas, interim city building inspector, said the concern is with the school’s conversion from an educational use to an assembly use and compliance with the 2011 Ohio Building Code.
“What should have happened is, before they occupied the structure, they should have made application for a change of use,” he said.
Farkas said the city became aware of the problem after church officials requested an inspection of the building in preparation of opening a halfway house focused on drug rehabilitation.
“We were invited in by them, and that’s when we discovered the school was converted into a church,” he said.
In a letter dated May 20, the Building Department outlined a list of issues that need to be brought into compliance before the building is deemed safe and a certificate of occupancy can be issued. Because of the change of use, the building is now required to have a full sprinkler system, updated fire alarm system, emergency lighting and approved exit signs.
“This change of use is an increase in hazard from that of the previous use,” the letter said.
There is also a supplemental letter from fire Inspector Paul Males Jr., with the city’s Bureau of Arson and Fire Prevention.
“I do not recommend occupancy of this building until the life safety systems have been installed, inspected, tested and accepted,” the letter said. “The occupant load of 1,052 people along with the 30,710-square-foot building poses a life safety hazard.”
Farkas said the building code issues have nothing to do with the church’s future plans to help addicts through an initiative the church is calling “Creation House.”
“That is another discussion,” he said.
Creation House will have a mission to help addicts through a five pillar program — love, accountability, discipline, discipleship and supervision. Grodell said the cease-and-desist order is not going to deter future plans.
“I don’t see it as a setback, but a challenge to overcome,” he said. “We are a prayerful church and when there is a cause, people seem to rally more.”
Beyond the Walls Church is still planning a fundraiser for Creation for June 24, in the Elyria High School Performing Arts Center with The Marshall Tucker Band. All money will go toward the Creation House as planned.
“We are planning a whole weekend of events with a bike blessing and community cookout,” he said. “We were going to be outside anyway, so I think we will be good.”
Grodell said the church will halt its monthly food pantry until it can occupy the building, but will continue to feed the homeless as that’s always done away from the church with members going to community members in need.
Farkas said by law the certificate of occupancy can be issued only when safety measures are in place.