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Friendship Baptist to tear down fire-damaged former Morris Brown dorm

Owners of a former Morris Brown College dormitory that caught fire late Tuesday plan to demolish the building sometime in the next two months.

There is no other way to keep the buildings secure, said Lloyd Hawk, CEO of Friendship Baptist Church.

The church bought the former dorm, known as the John A. Middleton Complex, on Mitchell Street last year as part of a land deal with Invest Atlanta, which saw the struggling historically black college sell off most of its property as part of a plan to exit bankruptcy.

Tuesday’s fire was the second fire this year at property once owned by Morris Brown and the third one this school year.

No one was injured, but crews found “heavy fire” on the second floor of the vacant 10-story complex. A trash fire in one of the rooms spread to a hallway, fire officials said. One person was rescued from the building.

In February, firefighters also found fire on the second floor of the Middleton Complex. Vagrants were inside, but no one was injured.

In August 2015, former honors dormitory Gaines Hall, owned by Invest Atlanta, caught fire. The cause was not determined.

“One of the challenges with the Middleton towers is that when we bought it, (the building) had not been used by Morris Brown for 10 years and had become occupied by homeless residents of the city,” said Hawk, who is also chairman of Friendship Baptist’s trustee board.

The church built a fence to keep out trespassers, but it was stolen and sold for scrap, he said. The building was also boarded up and security officers hired to patrol the property, but people still managed to get into the building.

Friendship plans to rebuild and restructure the entire area it purchased from the school, which also includes a gymnasium, Hawk said. Friendship is also building a new church on the property, which it plans to have completed by April 2017, in time for its 155th anniversary.

Morris Brown retained ownership of the school's administration building, Griffin Hightower Classroom building and Fountain Hall. The school plans to refurbish all of those buildings, beginning with the administration building, which is currently occupies.