Church makes an offer Fort Lauderdale High can’t refuse

Fort Lauderdale High will soon be home to joyful sounds on Sundays, and a pricey new sound system all week long.

The Jacksonville-based Celebration Church plans to expand into Fort Lauderdale this fall, using the high school’s auditorium. It’s found a unique way to pay its rent: provide a $251,000 sound system to the high school.

While it’s not unusual for a religious organization to rent space from a district school, it’s normally done by paying monthly rent. This type of trade-off is a first, at least in recent history, Broward school district officials said.

“We’ll be getting a greater value than we would if they just paid rent,” said Barbara Myrick, the district’s general counsel.

For students, this means state-of-the art equipment that will provide professional-level acoustics for school plays, band concerts and debate functions. It may also make the school a popular to place to host countywide and regional events.

“They have an incredibly strong theater program so I know this is very exciting for them,” said School Board member Heather Brinkworth, who represents the school.

Fort Lauderdale High was built in 1961, and while it’s gone through several major renovations in the past decade, the auditorium hasn’t been updated, Brinkworth said.

The School Board approved the agreement Tuesday, which will allow the church to use the school auditorium from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

The upgrades include state-of-the-art equipment found in professional concert halls and recording studios. They include mixing consoles, high power subwoofer speakers, an amplified controller, monitors, an audio mixer and sound isolating headphones.

The rental agreement lasts for three years, with the district having to pay for a portion of the equipment costs if it evicts the church without cause during that time. The equipment will permanently remain with the school.

Celebration Church was founded by lead pastors Stovall and Kerri Weems in 1998, with their first services taking place at a school in Jacksonville. They now have about 12,000 congregants attending weekly in 11 regions, including north and Central Florida, and Zimbabwe, Africa, a district report says. This is their first entry into South Florida.

The church has partnered with at least seven schools in Florida, providing mentorship programs, sponsoring school teams, providing after-school programs, renovating school facilities and paving roads for school entrances, a district report says.

In 2014, the church made more than $350,000 in auditorium improvements at Howard Middle School in Orange County and .agreed to make similar improvements earlier this year at Lake Howell High in Seminole County.

“Our schools are assets in the community. Anytime we can further leverage them so they can be used to the maximum ability, that’s a good thing,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said. “This is a community partner that wants to use that facility, and they will make capital investments that will benefit the district. It’s a win-win.”

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