SANFORD – The new Sanford Christian Academy will begin classes this fall – an endeavor that is an act of faith for Todd Bell, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church on High Street, and his wife, Amy.
“The school is a burden of mine and my wife’s,” said Ball. “We wanted to start a school for 20 years now, so we stepped out on faith, bought the building, and we are going to have a school.”
However, the church’s new school building, a couple doors down from the church on High Street, will have to wait to open until renovations are completed, which Bell estimates will be done in December. Meanwhile, classes will be held at the church.
“We’re glad to be in Sanford,” said Bell. “This is an old building. We wouldn’t be investing so hard in it, No. 1, if we didn’t think it was God’s will to do it, and No. 2, if we didn’t believe in the town.”
Bell said so far 30 students had signed up to start this fall from Sanford and other towns in the surrounding area, including Parsonfields and Limerick. Tuition is normally $2,550 but discounted to $1,850 for the children of members of the Calvary Baptist Church.
Bell said the students will study the A Beka curriculum, a Christian course of study developed in Pensacola, Fla. The school covers kindergarten through Grade 12.
“Our motto is ‘Soldiers of the Cross,’” said Bell. “We make no apology that we want to train young people to be soldiers of the cross. To not only be trained academically, but also to be trained spiritually to go into churches and towns in the northeast and make a difference in people’s lives.”
As a private school without public funding, Sanford Christian Academy does not have to follow a statewide standard, according to David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education. Private schools are also not required to register with the state but do have to provide 175 days of instruction and notify the school districts where their students live so that they aren’t marked as truants.
He said some private schools do volunteer for state approval. To earn the voluntary approval, private schools must meet state health and safety standards, provide the 175 days of required instruction, and have certified teachers. Some schools don’t seek approval but notify the state of their existence, which is also voluntary.
“We don’t actually know how many private schools there are in the state,” said Connerty-Martin. “We have very strong local control. The Legislature agreed that parents have a right to educate their kids without state involvement.”
When it’s completed, the school building will have three levels. The first floor will have the school’s offices, but will mostly be a large open room that will serve as both the school’s fellowship hall and cafeteria. The second floor will house three classrooms that will combine pre-kindergarten through kindergarten, grades 1 through 3, and grades 4 through 6, respectively. High school will be on the third floor. While teachers will instruct the primary grade students, the high school students will be taught through DVD courses. Bell said when the building is ready it could house up to 300 students.
As enrollment grows, Bell said, the school will rent a gym, and students will be able to participate in sports teams that will play in a Christian school league that competes around Maine and New Hampshire. They also plan to use the local YMCA for physical education facilities.
The church bought the former residential building on June 6 and so far the work getting it ready has been nonstop.
“It hasn’t been lived in in 22 years,” said Bell.
Work so far has been tearing out the inside materials, including the sheetrock, insulation, and wiring.
“It’s a total demo,” Bell said. “We had to get it down to where we could work with it.”
Construction workers on the building include Bell and hundreds of volunteers, according to Bell. Last week’s crew included workers from Bell’s home state of North Carolina that had volunteered to come up for a week. Others have come from closer to Sanford, spending a day a week on the job site, all pushing for a completion of the work before Christmas. Though the outside will be finished in about another week, much remains to be done on the inside.
“We have to have an infusion of funds,” said Bell. “It takes a lot of work to do these things.”
Bell has been in town for 15 years, starting the Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford in 2002. It is one of five “church plantings” in Maine that he has overseen.
“We’re involved in missions,” said Bell, who is also a pilot and uses Sanford Airport as a base to fly as far as Canada for ongoing mission work as well as to volunteer for Angel Flight, airlifting patients from remote areas so they can receive hospital care. “I go into an area to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and see people saved.”