BCF’s ‘20/20 Vision Program’ already coming into focus
President Kinchen says the college is ‘ahead of the game’ on massive campus renovation plan
Aug 1, 2014
By CAROLYN NICHOLS
Florida Baptist Witness
GRACEVILLE (FBW)—The Baptist College of Florida is preparing for the rest of the 21st century. Its motto remains the same—“Changing the World through the Unchanging Word”—but BCF’s campus is changing at an accelerated pace.
BCF trustees endorsed the $20 million “20/20 Vision Program,” a comprehensive campus renovation, barely three months ago, and changes are already evident. BCF President Thomas A. Kinchen said the program title is a nod to the target year of completion and to a “perfect vision of a new campus.”
“We are ahead of the game for where we thought we’d be at this time,” Kinchen said.
|SIGHTS SET HIGH Baptist College of Florida President Thomas A. Kinchen, who has served in that role since 1990, says the “20/20 Vision Program”&8200;title is a nod to the target year for completion and to a “perfect vision of a new campus.” Kinchen traces the genesis of the 20/20 Vision to his first visit to Graceville in 1989. BCF photo|
Sitting in his office at a conference table laden with blueprints, Kinchen voiced his displeasure with those who might classify a theologically conservative college as a “meager, second-class institution.”
“This program is nothing short of reinventing what a broad-based Christian college looks like. I want prospective students to visit and ask, ‘Do I get to go here?’ and not, ‘Do I have to go here?’ Our students have responded to God’s call to ministry, and I’m the one who has to ensure that they have the best quality of life available,” he said.
Kinchen traces the genesis of the 20/20 Vision to his first visit to Graceville in late 1989. While serving as executive director-treasurer of the West Virginia Baptist Convention, he was asked to consider taking the position as president of the college. The prospective president made an “undercover reconnaissance” visit to the campus, he said. He was expecting a campus that was comparable to the “college products [that] had done a wonderful job” in his native south Georgia, but he was sorely disappointed.
“When I saw the campus I thought, ‘Your heart may be healthy, but your body is hurting,’ ” he said.
He also was told by the college trustees that the institution was in danger of closing. The institution that began as Baptist Bible Institute in Lakeland in 1943 moved to Graceville in 1953, and became a ministry of the Florida Baptist Convention in 1957.
“They told me I had 18 months to turn it around, or it was going to close,” Kinchen said.
Confident of God’s calling to join the effort to save the college, Kinchen moved south to Graceville. In May 2015, he will celebrate 25 years as president.
“The last 25 years have been the hardest job I ever had, but it’s been the straightest path between God-given vision and God-blessed reality,” he said.
Enrollment at BCF stands at 619 students—one third more than studied there in 1990.
Kinchen began the process of renovation almost immediately upon his arrival. Of the buildings now standing on the 61-year-old campus, all have been renovated or built in the past 25 years. The iconic R.G. Lee Chapel that stands on the spot where the famous preacher led a tent revival has been renovated three times.
“There is a joke on campus that says, ‘If you stand in the same place too long, you’ll be trimmed, painted or transplanted,’ ” Kinchen said with a hearty laugh.
Kinchen’s wife, Ruth Ann, BCF’s “first lady,” puts her touch on every building project. She makes curtains, paints curtain rods and chooses furniture. A tiered fountain in front of the chapel, a gift from the college trustees, is dubbed the First Lady’s Fountain in her honor.
Buildings and even the shape of the 250-acre campus will change as the 20/20 Vision Program progresses. New construction north of the lake will make the lake the new center of campus.
The new operation center is complete and clears up land to begin construction of new student housing. Student digs that are now three bedroom/one bath will become two-bedroom/two-bath units, and housing for single students will be semi-private rooms with a private bath.
The age of the buildings slated for demolition brings an added expense even before bulldozers arrive, Kinchen said. Because of lead paint and asbestos, professionals have to work on-site first to remove hazardous materials.
“It costs us $5,000 before we can even tear down an old building,” Kinchen said.
Land on Sanders Avenue will soon be graded for the new Deese Student Center that will contain a dining facility. Kinchen described it as a “food court with a kicked-up steakhouse feel.”
“I want our students to feel like they have been out to eat,” he said.
Newly remodeled guest housing should be completed by summer’s end, and “conversations are underway” for a new office and classroom building. The total renovation will eventually include new classrooms for business leadership, worship arts, education and biblical studies disciplines.
Kinchen has pledged that the 20/20 Vision Project, like past building endeavors, will be accomplished “with no debt. We will operate in the black.” BCF sold property in downtown Graceville that will help finance the renovation, and “Friends of the College” are donating funds for building projects, he said.
While the college works to raise funds for construction, it finds an invaluable resource in construction teams who bring hundreds of volunteers to work on campus.
First Baptist Church in Orlando annually sends a team of more than 100 to Graceville. The 2014 team recently pressure washed buildings, added hand rails, laid tile in five buildings and remodeled an office, closets and student housing. They removed a concrete slab and removed and trimmed shrubs.
Other teams will arrive this summer from Trinity Baptist Church in Apopka, First Baptist Church in Tangerine, Oakview Baptist Church in Okeechobee, Sarasota Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church in Tallahassee. During winters, Missouri’s BUDD Builders (Building Under Divine Direction) arrive to work on campus.
Even during construction, “no one will find the campus dirty or overgrown,” Kinchen said.
“A lost world passes by, and I don’t want them to think that we are poor stewards. Everything we do is under scrutiny,” he said.
Kinchen hopes also to improve the business acumen of BCF students and to enhance the business growth of the college’s hometown. As former president of local chambers of commerce and development council, Kinchen wants the BCF business school to become a “business incubator” for students and area churches, a place where one can learn to start a business that may finance a ministry to which one is called. He envisions a church business center that will be a resource for “little churches with no knowledge of taxes, charters or even publishing bulletins.” It may include a call center that will offer a live voice to someone who calls a church where no one is there to answer the phone and will forward a call to a pastor’s cell phone.
BCF, originally established to train those who felt called to ministry later in life, now offers 21 undergraduate degrees and two graduate degrees. A B.A. in missions includes a concentration in aviation for those who may use aviation in mission endeavors.
“We can’t say now that the only ones to be trained in ministry are those who earn a paycheck from a church,” Kinchen said.
Kinchen hopes to celebrate each completed aspect of the 20/20 Vision Project upon completion. At 67, he said he has “no plans to retire,” but he will be obedient to the Lord’s leadership. His commitment to BCF remains steadfast.
“No matter where they bury my body one day, my heart will be here. I believe this is worth living for and worth dying for. God has shown here what only He can do.”
For more information on studying at BCF, call 850-263-9015. To donate money or to volunteer teams to work on campus, call 800-328-2660, ext. 445.
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