ONLY ON WWAY: Parents concerned over church’s request to use Topsail High

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PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — A church in Hampstead wants to rent the two gymnasiums and the Performing Arts Center at Topsail High School, but it is causing some uproar among parents.

For the last two years, Renovation Church has been operating at Topsail Middle School, but Lead Pastor Jonathan Cockrell said they have grown faster than they anticipated.

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“We’ve gone from about 100 people to on any given Sunday we’ll have 700 to 800 people,” Cockrell said.

That is why he says they have requested to rent the two gyms, a classroom, and the performing arts center at Topsail High School.

“We need that space,” Cockrell said.



The request has gotten lots of attention on Facebook. Some parents are concerned over who gets priority for the space. Others have defended the church saying how well they take care of the middle school and give back to the whole community.

Other parents like Suzanne Altobello are concerned over the church using the performing arts center in particular.

“The drama department is not a club,” Altobello said. “It meets every day. There are classes four times a day.”

She said they also have performances on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

“My first concern came from the fact that I had heard rumors that the auditorium sound system was going to be modified and that the drama students might not have the ability to utilize that space as a teaching classroom,” Altobello said.

According to the Performing Arts Center Use Guidelines, Topsail High School groups such as students, teachers, and parent support organizations shall be given first preference on the use of school property or facilities.

Cockrell said they would like to permanently install their own sound system that the students can use.

“We’ve always said that school gets priority,” Cockrell said. “If there is a Sunday where we can’t use it, then we’ll figure out another option.”

Cockrell said they have always worked with the schools and the other organizations who use the space. He said the students come first.

“Absolutely,” Cockrell said. “In fact, we partner at the middle school with Topsail Basketball Association and we work really well together and so, if they need the space or if we’re needing it, we work well. Who benefits is the school, because, of course, they’re getting rent in order to improve facilities.”

Altobello says she still does not think it is okay for them to rent the theatre.

“When you’re renting a space like the gym or the cafeteria, that space is not going to be modified and I think that that is a fair alternative,” Altobello said.

That is why she said she called the principal with her concerns.

“Who told me he had denied the request, because it was going to interfere with academic issues and the superintendent had supported his decision,” Altobello said.

According to board minutes from an April 20 board of education meeting, the church appealed the denial. The Board of Education passed the appeal unanimously. That means there will be an appeal hearing where the board will vote on it.

“So we’ve got to present to them what it would look like to be there, answer any questions that we have,” Cockrell said.

The appeal hearing is scheduled for June 12 at the Pender County Resource Center at 3:00 p.m.