Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Baptist Church Buying MPS Building

Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church will launch new school on 37th and Keefe.

By - Jan 12th, 2021 04:16 pm
3409 N. 37th St., the former Frederick Douglas Elementary School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

3409 N. 37th St., the former Frederick Douglas Elementary School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A vacant Milwaukee Public Schools building would be acquired by a church for use as a school, bringing the building’s life full circle.

Milwaukee Public Schools acquired the 38,036-square-foot building at 3409 N. 37th St. in 1988 from St. John De Nepomuc Congregation and opened Frederick Douglass Elementary School to deal with growing enrollment in a pre-voucher environment.

Less than 20 years later, MPS gave up on the property. The district vacated the building by 2006 and in 2015 declared it surplus.

Now neighboring Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church is hoping to buy the building, originally built in 1954, and open a school.

“[The church] has been trying to purchase the property for quite a long time and now they’re in a position to move that along,” said Department of City Development representative Rhonda Szallai to members of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee Tuesday morning.

The church does not currently operate a school. Szallai said it would seek a charter from MPS for grades K4 through fifth. Most schools affiliated with churches are run through the less-restrictive state voucher system. The latter came too late for the former Catholic school, which closed because of declining enrollment.

“We look forward to continuing to enhance our ministry in this area,” said pastor Martin Childs, Jr. “Currently there are no facilities for children and seniors to gather in that area. We see it as a much-needed resource.”

“I just want to express my support for this transaction,” said area Alderman Khalif Rainey. “Pastor Childs and his church have been an anchor in this community since they relocated.”

The Baptist church acquired the adjacent St. John De Nepomuc church at 3717 W. Keefe Ave. in 2015 for $550,000, relocating from 3737 N. Sherman Blvd. The Catholic church in 1994.

City records indicate the building was constructed in 1927. The Baptist church also bought the former convent and office complex, 34263434 N. 38th St., as part of the transaction. Prior to the acquisition, it was most recently occupied by the troubled LifeSkills Academy voucher school.

Pilgrim Rest will pay $160,000 for the school. It was listed for $240,000. Closing is required by August 1st.

Acquiring the school will give the church control of almost the entire block bounded by W. Keefe Ave., W. Townsend St. N. 37th St. and N. 38th St.

Szallai said the church will need to pay property taxes on the school because of a city restriction on that property. “There will be a deed restriction for taxes to be paid,” she said.

State law requires surplus MPS properties to be offered only to other school operators for a period of two years before the city can sell them for adaptive reuse. The city did so in January 2016 and didn’t receive any offers. If it was sold during that period it would be required to be tax exempt.

Szallai said because it was now listed for sale for redevelopment, the city is able to place a deed restriction on the property. The city routinely requires taxable uses as part of land sales.


Correction: An earlier version of this report said the church closed in 1998, it closed in 1994 according to the Archidocese.

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