Ridgway Christian School leases former St. Joseph campus

Ridgway Christian School has leased the former St. Joseph Catholic School campus on West 73rd Avenue and will transfer its seventh- through 12th-grade students to the space in time for the Aug. 14 start of the 2013-2014 school year, school officials announced Wednesday.

Mac Bellingrath — president of the Pine Bluff Educational Endowment, which owns the land on which the campus is situated — made the announcement in front of an audience of teachers, board members and community supporters gathered in one of the school’s classrooms.

“I am proud to announce new leadership and new life for this campus with Ridgway Christian School,” Bellingrath said. “They have signed a five-year lease agreement for one dollar with two five-year renewal options.”

Bellingrath said that the PBEE originally acquired the 30 acres that the campus sits on in the late 1990s and raised the funds for the construction of St. Joseph Catholic School.

“In the late 1990s there was a groundswell of support in Jefferson County for a private educational alternative in Pine Bluff to take students through the 12th grade,” Bellingrath said. “We needed it to be able to attract businesses who wanted such an option for the children of their employees. The person who owned this land gave us 25 acres and we bought the other five acres. Once we got the school built, St. Joseph Catholic School signed a ten-year lease with PBEE and leased it for another five years after that.”

Gary Bell, pastor of Ridgway Christian School parent church Pine Bluff First Assembly of God, said the timing of the lease offer from Bellingrath was nothing short of divine intervention.

“It’s a good day for Ridgway Christian School,” Bell said to the enthusiastic audience. “When I thought about this partnership for the benefit of this community, the word that I decided best describes it is ‘excellent.’ Several months ago I met with the board to determine how to add new classrooms for the eighth through the 12th grades and how we would raise the estimated $700,000 to $800,000 it would take to build them.

“We had that meeting on a Monday and that very next morning Mac [Bellingrath] called me to discuss a potential partnership between the PBEE and Ridgway,” Bell said. “It is all about the will of the Lord and contributing to the educational future of Pine Bluff. Ridgway Christian School is not an island. We know that our school functions within the scope of public, private and home schools in this community.”

Bell said that anticipated 2013-2014 enrollment for grades K-12 is 500 students with about 120 seventh- through 12-graders occupying the West 73rd Avenue space.

“The downside is that people must pay tuition to come here,” Bell said. “I wish that everyone could come here for free, but the fact is that a Christian school must pay its own way. We are part of the process of contributing to the education of students in Pine Bluff.”

Bell expressed his vision for what Ridgway Christian School can provide its students.

“Simply put, our goal is to provide our students with a quality education in a safe and stable environment,” Bell said. “We are preparing them for both higher education and a higher calling. We are preparing students both to have a career and to make a life. Our gratitude for the opportunity provided by Mr. Bellingrath and the PBEE is best shown by continuing to offer the best education we can under God’s guidance.”

Ridgway administrator Lenora Porter said the school has a total of 50 open spots between the ninth, 11th and 12th grades.

“Our seventh-, eighth- and 10th-grade classes are full and have closed,” Porter said.

Porter advised any parents who would like to enroll their child or enquire about enrollment to call the Ridgway office at 879-6264.

“We will begin the enrollment process and answer any questions that they have,” Porter said.