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Sale of former Olean elementary school to church proceeds

OLEAN – It took a bit of explanation, but after quelling what appear to be nothing more than rumors, the prospective buyers of the former Ivers J. Norton Elementary School are just a vote away from having a new building for ministries. The project received full Planning Board approval Monday night.

Plans for Epic Church of Olean to purchase the former school were being questioned by neighbors, on the grounds of the uses of the building by the church with a congregation of between 60 and 70 people. One rumor held that some of the former classrooms would be renovated into apartments for a halfway house for inmates released from prison.

According to the site plan, as approved, a portion of the building will be used for church functions. The remainder has yet to be planned for use, according to board President Tom Barnes.

“We have no future plans at this time,” Chuck Maine, co-pastor of the church, said. “It’s a church. We will have church functions. There will be no living quarters for released prisoners, or anything, in there.”

Barnes went on to clarify that the notion of living quarters in the building has not been included in the site plan and, should the church find the need to create such places in the unplanned portion of the building, the matter would have to come back to the board for review.

“If portions were to be used for that reason, we would have to find that as noncompliance to what we have approved,” Barnes said.

Other concerns over the facilities ranged from the small congregation being able to maintain the building, from the upkeep standpoint, as well as paying for utilities.

Those issues were dismissed as being outside of the board’s authority and not for its discussion. The final concern, and one that had been addressed in the site plan submitted, dealt with lighting and any changes that would change the character of the South Olean neighborhood.

Vinnie Marra, a neighbor of the building, was concerned with lighting changes and parking changes that would disrupt his home.

No changes to the exterior, to include lighting, are in the approved plans for the building.

The final step in the process is a public referendum scheduled for Feb. 4. Epic Church has offered $142,000 for the property.