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VOL. 127 | NO. 228 | Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jones Center Fulfills Dream at First Assembly Christian School

By ERINN FIGG

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If the walls could talk in the log cabin on the campus of First Assembly Christian School in Cordova, they might tell stories of home life in 1836 or of the visiting missionaries who used to stay there.

Believed to be the oldest single-family dwelling in Shelby County, the Jones Center on the campus of First Assembly Christian School has seen recent additions and improvements.

(Photo Courtesy of FACS)

Or, they might share more recent memories of FACS students chatting, playing board games, supporting each other through tough times or sharing their goals with college recruiters.

Either way, the walls of the new Jones Center have more than 175 years of tales to tell and, thanks to a recent renovation donated by friends of the school Hermon and Bonnie Jones, they’ll most likely have many more.

Believed by many to be the oldest single-family dwelling in Shelby County, the historically significant structure was already situated on the 42-acre property on Walnut Grove Road when First Assembly Memphis bought the land from Memphis dentist Boyd Argo in 1999. Until recently, FACS had only used the approximately 4,000-square-foot building – which included an almost 3,000-square-foot addition, constructed in the mid-1970s with close attention to historic accuracy and detail under Argo’s supervision – as a storage facility. In March, officials at the multi-denominational school began renovations on the building to transform it into a guidance and counseling center for its nearly 800 students.

“It’s something that has been a dream of ours for a number of years,” said Wendell Meadows, head of school. “We wanted to open up our guidance and counseling program to be a more inviting, friendly and peaceful area.”

Like Argo, the school took careful measures to preserve the historic integrity of the structure while bringing it into the modern age, adding heating and cooling systems, wireless Internet service and more windows, among other renovations.

According to school officials, about 40 local businesses worked on the project, among them Richardson Renovations, which ensured that the materials and methods were historically accurate; Pella Windows; King Plumbing; Landrum Heat & Air; and Arcadia Landscaping, whose services were donated by Ray and Rhonda Glotzbach.

Completed in August, the Jones Center now is a far cry from its former role as a home for boxes of files and old school equipment, although the building’s basement still houses school records.

“It really takes away from an institutional feel, which was our intention,” Meadows said. “When you’re there, you feel like you’re sitting on a cabin in the lake, conducive to relaxation. It fosters relaxation and creative energy.”

The first floor houses the office of guidance director Jeannie Smeltser; a coffee bar; a reception area; student work areas to facilitate college and career exploration, resume development, and college and scholarship applications; and a scenic conference room – featuring a bank of large windows overlooking the woods – where students can meet with college recruiters.

The second floor has another counseling office, more work spaces, and a senior lounge – in what was once the sleeping loft of the 1836 dwelling – with board games, comfy couches, a guitar and other means for students to unwind.

“The senior lounge is a place where we can go and get away from the outside world and have some bonding time,” said FACS senior Natalie Smith. “It’s a really nice place to be with your friends. We play board games and talk.”

Fellow senior Connor Eayne says he uses The Jones Center to work on homework and fill out college applications. He’s looking at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. “It’s a nice place to meet with college recruiters,” he said.

The Jones Center also has spaces for group and personal counseling, Meadows said. For example, a grief-counseling group for students who have lost family members or loved ones currently meets there.

Founded in 1972, the faith-based FACS serves students from junior-kindergarten through 12th grade and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredit it. In 1999, it moved from the First Assembly Memphis church building on Highland Street to its current location at 8650 Walnut Grove Road in Cordova.

Students representing more than 100 area churches follow a college-preparatory academic program, with more than 98 percent of graduates enrolling in post-secondary education. Because tuition primarily covers offering costs, the school relies heavily on donations for many of its enhancements.

“Our tuition is lower than what it costs per student for the state to send a child to a public school,” said Deborah Wade, director of development for FACS. “That’s why private-school gifts are so important to an independent school such as ours.”

Wade said they’re looking forward to another gift from longtime friends of the school, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Frazee, which will enable full wireless access on the campus by the end of the year.

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