Tulare church expansion will serve seniors

FRESNO, Calif.

The Bethel Family Worship Center will be located in Tulare -- southeast of Highway 99 and Cartmill Avenue.

City leaders are saying this is quite a unique path for a church to take. Bethel Assembly of God here in Tulare is the driving force behind a 29-acre campus that will include an Alzheimer's facility, nursing home, senior housing and a new church. The project will also bring 50 new jobs to the area.

For eight years Pastor Dennis Sunderland has been dreaming up a community campus he says is needed to serve seniors in Tulare.

"And then I encountered the need myself in ministry of care for Alzheimer's and dementia as more and more people are aging a certain percentage of the population experiences that," Pastor Sunderland said.

Bethel Assembly of God is behind a $100 million campus that would include a church for its 450-person congregation, luxury senior housing, a nursing home and a 24-hour lockdown center for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

The project has the backing of the city planning department, which says it furthers the city's goals to provide more senior facilities.

"We don't see a lot of master plan churches that have housing components with it, there's a lot of churches that do have housing components but not necessarily on their same site but it seems like the way of the future is larger church facilities with many different types of components to it," Tulare Planning Director Mark Kielty said.

The church owns the property now but would sell the parcels for the different facilities to the private company operating the memory center and nursing home. The senior housing facility will be run by a non-profit the church started.

Sunderland says he's most excited about building their new, $11 million, 60,000 square foot church.

Despite recent news of mega churches like some in southern California...facing financial trouble during today's economy, Sunderland says the church is the only building they're paying for-- and mostly debt-free.

"It will allow us to put all our ministries together and operate in a way we feel enhances our ministry to the city of Tulare."

City leaders believe it's unusual for a church to develop a project like this...Sunderland says they're simply providing the stepping stones for a better community.

"I think that the church throughout the history of this nation has always spearheaded social advances, whether it was the repeal of slavery whether it was social programs that we so take for granted today."

City council expected to give final approval on the project next month, with construction starting in the spring.

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