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Former Benalto church making way for housing

Duplexes to be developed on site for Benalto Baptist Church

A former Baptist church in Benalto will be replaced with a pair of duplexes.

Red Deer County’s municipal planning commission approved an application to adjust Benalto Baptist Church property boundaries into four separate titles to accommodate the duplexes.

Coun. Brent Ramsay said he was initially unsure about the local reaction to losing another community church. After speaking with residents, he was reassured that the site’s redevelopment was welcomed.

“I think this is exactly what you want to see happen in the area,” said Ramsay.

The property is being redeveloped by former Red Deer County councillor Stan Bell and his son Lance, who owns Bell Homes. Two of the four 1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom, two bath homes with attached garages are already sold. Construction is expected to start this spring for a September move-in day.

Bell said he and his son were looking around for opportunities when they got wind that the church, which had been looking for a buyer for a couple of years, was still available.

“I’m a Christian myself and it’s sad to see a church go. But it is a reflection of the society we live in. Funerals and marriages, a lot of them are done without a church.

“It just came to the point where (the church owners) had to look at different ways of disposing of it because the congregation was too small to maintain the size of the facility it was in.”

A young local couple first approached the Bells to see if the church could be converted into a home. But with asbestos removal and all the other things that would need to be done to the 1960s-era building to bring it up to modern residential standards the renovation was just not financially feasible.

The Bells considered turning it into apartments or condominiums, but again, it did not make financial sense given the costly work required. The church’s location in the heart of a residential area in what is considered old Bentley also narrowed down the list of options.

Bell, who has lived his entire life only a few kilometres from Benalto, is sure the additional housing will be a good fit.

“It’s been a while since there’s been new development here.”

The twinning of nearby Highway 11 to the Benalto entrance will boost its appeal, he believes.

“To me, it’s very attractive as a commuter community. You live in Benalto and you work somewhere else is probably going to be the reality.”

Some portions of the church have already been salvaged by area residents. A foyer built in 2000 was salvaged by the couple who originally approached the Bells and they are turning it into an addition to their manufactured home.

Other Benalto residents have stopped by to take bits and pieces and the Bells are stripping off the cedar roof for reuse.

Long-time Benalto resident Yvette Brideau said she believes the church was built in the 1960s. It was once an important gathering place but the congregation shrank as residents aged or joined other Baptist churches in nearby communities.

“The church was very much part of the community,” said Brideau. “The elders were awesome and had been around for a long time.”

More and husband and artist Dave More know first hand how changing times and evolving communities can affect local churches. The Mores bought a former Presbyterian church in Benalto 30 years and turned it into an art studio.

While it is sad to lose another church, using the property to develop housing that could be perfect for residents looking to down-size will be positive and fits in well with the community, she said.

That the property is being developed by local such as the Bells is also encouraging.

Other buildings have also seen their uses change for the community’s benefit over the years.

In 2016, Chinook’s Edge School Division closed Benalto School. Red Deer County stepped in to buy the school, which is now used by the local Family and Community Support Services representative and has become a hub for programs aimed at children, teens and seniors.