Simply divine: Wisconsin Christian school repurposes former strip club, ‘lets the light in’

When Ozaukee Christian School purchased a former strip club for its new home, Head of School Kris Austin knew it was an unorthodox move.

“It is a story that only God could write,” said Austin.

Indeed, when the Wisconsin school’s staff peeled away drywall covering a window in the old Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen’s Club, an unusual detail in the building’s design confirmed their vision for the future: an unbalanced window frame formed a cross.

“God had a purpose for our new building from the very beginning,” school staff wrote on their social media in September 2019. “The design of the window frames (see the cross?) was chosen by the original owners many years before Spearmint-Rhino purchased the property. If God has such a grand plan for a building (now to be used to develop resilient and vibrant Jesus-followers), what must His plan be for us as individuals?”

But the road that led Ozaukee Christian to its new home was full of twists and turns. Since its inception, the school in West Bend, Wisconsin had convened in various faith-based centers and churches, including 19 years at a former Catholic school. But when that building was sold, Ozaukee Christian School (OCS) was required to look for a creative solution.

It found one in Trenton business park’s erstwhile strip club, as well as restaurant and office space. Austin told local media she found the irony “humorous.”

But it took more than just a good sense of humor to turn a strip club into a Christian school. The business park’s original price of $1 million was unaffordable. The school also faced the challenge of fundraising for the massive renovation of a 40-acre, 22,000-square foot strip mall.

And amid so much upheaval, OCS continued to hold classes throughout both the renovation and the coronavirus pandemic.

“We can’t help but laugh, because it’s, like, this crazy story,” Doris Schlenvogt, who serves on the board of directors as well as school librarian, recounted to local media.

Despite their displacement and the odds stacked against them, OCS found a way to turn what might have been a deathblow into a fresh start. It managed to acquire the property for $600,000, almost half the original asking price, then raised a substantial $1.5 million toward the cost of the purchase and the three-year renovation.

When it first opened its doors in 1990, OCS consisted of just 13 students. Now that renovations are complete, OCS will be able to accommodate as many as 150 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, the largest capacity in the school’s history.

For the staff, the building is more than just four walls and a roof. It is a symbol of the effect they hope to have.

“We took the drywall off of the windows because it was just a darker environment in many different ways, and we’ve let the light in and we think of it as the light of Jesus,” Austin recalled to local media.

On Thursday, Ozaukee Christian celebrated the long renovation and resulting increase in enrollment with a ribbon cutting ceremony, a testament to the school’s resourcefulness, perseverance, and bright future.

“It is a journey unlike anything we could have imagined,” Austin said.