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Church seeks permit for big move

(ran East edition)

First Baptist Church is working through the county permitting process to begin an expansion that will take it out of the city's historic downtown and into a new, larger facility on fast-growing State Road 52.

"We can't accommodate all of our members in one service now," church administrator Jim Sartain said Monday.

The church filed detailed plans with the county development review office for a 60,000-square-foot sanctuary with room for 800 people. Later plans call for softball and soccer fields and a wooded prayer garden on the 59-acre property.

Sartain said the church hopes to break ground within six months and finish construction in late 2007. The church will also be closer to new housing developments that will soon go up along State Road 52 west of Dade City.

The plans must undergo a series of county approvals before construction crews can break ground on the project.

The future of the church's current home, a 61-year-old, red brick building on 2.6 acres in downtown Dade City, remains uncertain.

A county plan to buy the old church for $2.5-million and convert it into a public library fell apart in November when county officials determined it could not accommodate 8-foot-tall bookshelves.

Sartain said the church still hopes to sell the property.