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AUBURN — A new Christian academy is set to open in Auburn next year.

The Emmanuel Christian Academy of Auburn, located at the United Church of Auburn, will open in September 2019. The school is tentatively set to serve kindergarten through eighth-grade students. Pastor Damon Gagnier, who is on the church's committee overseeing the school's progress, said the church hopes for 20 to 30 students in its first year, and registration is expected to begin in February.

Work was underway at the building Friday, courtesy of a $2,200 grant for painting, carpeting and tiling from the Home Depot foundation. The smiles on people's faces were steady as volunteers worked. Boxes of items could be seen neatly stacked in different rooms.

Gagnier said a secular day care had been at the church for years, but once the service announced its intention to vacate, it was decided the tables in the church's classrooms couldn't be left to collect dust. The church looked into the possibility of opening a Christian school, so a couple of church representatives visited Eagle Wings Academy in Syracuse in February to get ideas. They found the academy had the academic rigor and spiritual focus the church wanted for its own facility, Gagnier said.

One day in July, Gagnier received a call from an Eagle Wings representative who said the academy was changing directions and asked Gagnier if the church wanted to buy all of the school's assets, such as tables, chairs, phones, laptops, white boards and an academic curriculum. The church offered to buy everything for $5,000. A day after both parties agreed, Gagnier said, an donor who asked not to be named offered to pay the $5,000 and a portion of the cost to move the items from Syracuse to Auburn. He said he was stunned to acquire so much so quickly, and saw it as a sign that the church is meant to open the school.

"Starting a school from nothing is a nearly impossible endeavor, and we're doing it in a year," he said. "We're totally relying on God to do this, and obviously he's doing a great job." 

There is a great deal of work ahead, however, including finalizing an academic vision for the school and hiring an administrator and teachers in the coming months. Gagnier said donations and tuition would support the school, adding that the plan is to have a school board in place to cement that the school is a community effort and not just a church effort. Different models for a secure entrance to the school complete with electronic doors are being looked at, as well.

Gagnier said Christian education emphasizes morality through Scripture, as he said he doesn't believe public schools can teach morality despite best intentions. Lauren Smith will be a school administrative assistant, and her children will attend the school. Smith said she focuses on morality and "knowing the Lord and his love" to her children, and she wants them to learn in an environment that does the same.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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Education Reporter