Landmark Southeast Texas church getting multi-million dollar facelift for a future in education

Published 11:47 am Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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ORANGE — College leaders want to preserve the 110-year-old First Baptist Church building on Green Avenue while also modernizing it so it can serve Orange for the next 100 years.

“This is a special community,” Lamar State College Orange President Dr. Thomas Johnson said. “This building will be our new Student Success Center. It’s our welcome center.”

During a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning, Johnson acknowledged it is hard for potential students to get out of the parking lot and walk into an academic building to start an education.

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This is particularly hard for students who would be first generation college graduates, a segment that makes up the majority of Lamar State College Orange graduates.

“What better thing in Southeast Texas that says ‘welcome’ than one of our houses of worship,” Johnson said “This is going to be magnificent. Right here in Orange, Texas, we are changing lives that will effect the whole world.”

Johnson previously explained to Orange Newsmedia that the renovated and reconstructed church would transform into a welcoming center, filled with faculty and staff ready to embrace and guide prospective students on paths that change their lives.


The building was built in 1913 and served as the home of First Baptist Church of Orange.

“The fact that it is still here today is in large part due to the efforts of the Stark Foundation and their dedication to restoring and maintaining the historic landmarks here in Orange, Texas,” Lamar State College Orange Marketing Communications Director Daniel McLemore said.

The Stark Foundation donated the building to Lamar State College Orange in 2021.

Additionally, the Texas’ 88th Legislative Session granted more than $6 million to restore the facility, McLemore said.

G&G Enterprises is leading the construction process, and CEO Natasha Garrett said being part of something so monumental is special.

“This is a building we have been to church in, seen friends and family have weddings and just celebrated milestones in life,” she said. “It is pretty remarkable. We’re excited for the opportunity. Our mission is to be part of a foundation that builds communities, not just great buildings.”

The construction and renovation project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2024.


Texas Speaker Dade Phelan said it’s a great time to be a student in Orange.

The District 21 representative said one of his main goals when taking office was focusing on growing the population in Southeast Texas.

“It starts with our institutions of higher education — Lamar Orange, Lamar Port Arthur, LIT and Lamar University,” he said. “They have done phenomenal work over the last 10 years. You are only as strong as your next generation.

“Going back decades, we have not grown like we should have been growing. That has changed. You have to give the next generation, not a job, but a career. That is what is happening right here.”

According to Phelan, the tuition at local colleges has decreased by 50 percent over the last four years, leading to a double digit increase in enrollment at Lamar State College Orange.

Conversely, post COVID, across Texas’ 50 junior colleges there has been a double digit decrease in enrollment.

He said what is happening across the Lamar campuses is leading to a bright future.

“We’re growing by leaps and bounds,” Phelan said. “We love our students here and are looking forward to the next generation to walk through these doors.”