First Christian Church basement

In the lower level of the former First Christian Church building, located at 115 Courthouse Plaza, boards, ceiling tiles and debris lay strewn about the floor on Thursday.

After buying a former church sight unseen, Riley County commissioners saw a building that one suggested is more likely to be torn down than renovated.

Missing railings, strewn cords and wiring and ceiling plaster remnants greeted commissioners Thursday during an informal tour of the former First Christian Church building.

The county recently purchased the property at 115 Courthouse Plaza, which is just across the parking lot from county offices, for almost $852,000.

The land ($253,500) and 101-year-old building ($1.19 million) are worth about $1.4 million, according to county appraisal records.

However, the commission hadn’t actually toured the facility before approving the purchase.

Commissioners have said they intended to convert the building for extra office space, but they found the endeavor may be more work than originally thought as many parts of the interior, and even an HVAC unit, had been stripped.

“What we’ve heard is it really wasn’t in the agreement (for the church) to take anything that’s part of the functioning building, but as you can tell they did and their justification was ‘We sold it at such a reduced price, we’re going to try to recoup that additional money by doing this,’” County Clerk Rich Vargo said. “... We did not expect it to be in this condition.”

First Christian Church had not yet responded to a request for comment as of The Mercury’s press time.

In the purchase agreement, it states the church “shall have the right to sell or otherwise transfer any and all of the contents of the church building prior to closing.” That included personal property, fixtures, appliances, colored glass, windows and other useful items with the exception of the limestone.

Commissioner Ron Wells estimated it may be cheaper to raze the building and start anew rather than try to salvage the shell of the building.

“I’d like to save the church building itself, but you can build a new building for $20 million or you can remodel this for $27 million,” he said.

The commission voted 2-1 on May 11 to purchase the property, with Wells and chairman Marvin Rodriguez in favor and commissioner John Ford against it. Ford said he did not want to buy the church during the coronavirus pandemic because of uncertain cash flow into the county.

At a recent commission meeting, some community members questioned why the county moved to purchase the building without having been inside the building for years. Commissioners said they were buying the property itself, and the church had reached out to the county first about the matter.

The county did not make any formal or final decision about whether or not to demolish the building.