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Pleasant Hill Elementary poised for a new life

December 18, 2013
By JANICE R. KIASKI - Herald-Star Community Editor ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - The former Pleasant Hill Elementary School on state Route 213 is getting a new identity.

And the public can come and get a better understanding of its reinvention as Four Seasons Ministries Community Center during an open house from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Visitors will be at liberty to browse, have refreshments, ask questions and offer suggestions on how the center can minister to the needs of the Upper Ohio Valley through programs and activities, according to the Rev. Jeff Proya, pastor of Bell Chapel United Methodist Church.

Article Photos

OPEN HOUSE SUNDAY — The Rev. Jeff Proya, right, pastor of Bell Chapel United Methodist Church on state Route 213, Steubenville, looks over some plans with youth directors Kevin and Shannon Daugherty for Sunday’s open house and play at the former Pleasant Hill Elementary School, which the church purchased at auction to function as the Four Seasons Ministries Community Center. The open house is from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and at 7 p.m. the play, “He Sent Us an Angel,” which involves approximately 30 children, will be presented. -- Janice R. Kiaski

At 7 p.m., a free play entitled "He Sent Us an Angel" will be presented, featuring about 30 children between the ages of 4 and 15 and directed by Shannon and Kevin Daugherty, the church's youth directors. There is no admission, but love donations will be accepted.

"Four Seasons Ministries is a ministry to people of all seasons of life. It's a whole life development kind of ministry for everyone in the community, from the elderly to the infant," Proya said.

That it will play out now in the former school instead of as a new construction project as first envisioned more than 10 years ago is an unexpected change in plans that makes sense, according to Proya.

The 36,000-square-foot school went on the auction block on Sept. 5. Bell Chapel UMC, the driving force behind Four Seasons Ministries, was the successful bidder among several on hand, acquiring not only the school for $130,000 but about 8 acres.

Originally, though, Bell Chapel, which is located near the school, founded Four Seasons Ministries in 2002. It is a nonprofit corporation based in Jefferson County with a mission statement that identifies its purpose as "witnessing to the love of Christ by nurturing and encouraging the spiritual, physical and emotional well-being in youth, seniors and family of the Upper Ohio Valley. We call this whole life development."

According to promotional material, whole life development is a phrase that explains how people of all ages are ministered to through holistic outreach. It's centered on helping a person's individual needs by ministering to the mind, body and soul.

"The idea was to build something new. We have 27 acres, still undeveloped, and we raised money - a quarter of a million dollars - between 2002 and the present," Proya explained of the original plans to construct a near 16,000-square-foot community center on a site 4 miles north of Steubenville on state Route 213.

"We had about $240,000 in 2008 and were going to get a loan. That's when the collapse occurred," Proya said of the economy downturn that soured plans to proceed with the estimated $1.3 million project.

Ironically, though, things worked out for the better, Proya explained, with cash in hand to buy more square footage space for less money - and acreage to boot. Plus, there's leftover money, more than $100,000, to use for the building as deemed fit.

Instead of constructing something new, the outreach of Bell Chapel UMC will "build" on something already there, configuring how best to use the former school space to meet present-day and future ministry needs.

The open house will be a chance not only for people to look around but to be put at ease, too, according to Proya. "It's just to let people see that we're doing something," Proya said. "A lot of folks are concerned that we're not going to do anything with it."

That's anything but true, he said.

"We want to create partnerships - we're looking for partnerships with other folks who need space for ministry," Proya said. "Four Seasons is an outreach of Bell Chapel. We don't want to limit it - we want the community to take ownership - Jefferson County, anyone who can use the facility for youth, seniors, etc., for Christ-centered ministries."

Two modular classrooms, for example, are being eyed as youth centers, one for children 10 and younger, the other for youth age 11 and older.

"There's a lot of space and a lot of potential to do a lot of things. We're hoping for anything that will help people - that's the bottom line. All we need to do is cover the utilities. We're not looking to make any money with this," Proya said.

"A lot of cleaning has been going on, and we decorated for the play," Proya said. "We're trying to figure out how to utilize all the space for ministry, so we have a couple of rooms in mind for a senior center like a coffee place (for people) to come in and have coffee and doughnuts, a rec room, an area to play cards, whatever they want to do, and then there also has been some interest in establishing a Christian bookstore card shop, just a little one located in there. Everything is nonprofit," he said.

"It's all been cleaned and items taken out for the most part. They can take a look around, have some cookies and hear about what we're trying to achieve," Proya said of the open house.

The building is in good shape and solid, according to Proya.

"It's a very nice facility," he said, admitting the closing of the school is a sad thing for the community, but new life for the building is a happy prospect.

"We just want to reach out and create opportunities for people of all ages to get together, learn from one another and be encouraged to grow," Proya said.

Beyond Sunday, use of the building probably won't get under way until spring. Proya welcomes suggestions and partnership possibilities and can be contacted at (740) 283-2239.

"It's a community center for the community, meeting the needs of the community.

"Good things are happening," Proya said, "and we want it to be the community's, just like the school was the center of the community."

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