After a 2½-year wait, Doug Diestler finally got the go-ahead last week to begin restoration of the historic Banta School.
The pastor of Tracy’s Grace Christian Center, Diestler spearheaded efforts to buy the mission-style schoolhouse in 2005. The church used donation and tithes to make the $1.25 million purchase from octogenarian Earl Van Bebber, who used the 10,000-square-foot school as a warehouse for more than 25 years.
The space, Diestler hopes, will accommodate his growing congregation and allow the church to expand ministries and community outreach.
Jean Boehm, a member of Diestler’s congregation, said the move was seen as risky at first.
“For this small church to go out and make this big purchase was just way out on the edge,” she said.
The church’s leadership liked the building’s history. They were looking for “a place that meant something,” Diestler said.
But it was the school’s historic status that made applying for a rebuilding permit such an ordeal.
San Joaquin County spent six months on traffic studies and months more to decide how to retrofit the 82-year-old school before planners OK’d restoration.
Diestler and his team took it all in stride, he said, knowing that the investment would be long term and that the 300-member congregation backed it.
Former owner Van Bebber postponed the date for the first payment because “the church had so much trouble meeting all the requirements the county imposed on them,” he said.
The church hired a crew this week to install a new tile roof, in keeping with its Spanish Mission look, a signature of building architect William Weeks, who also designed Tracy High School and its old West Building.