Leena Alali, Senior News Reporter

For years, businesses have come and gone from The Drag. From food establishments to student housing, change is no surprise. But for many current students, there is one constant: the boarded up Church of Scientology.  

Large pieces of wood cloak the exterior of the building, which takes up the entire corner of the 2200 block on Guadalupe, hiding its interior from the public since renovations began nearly five years ago. Plastic tarps cover up the lettering at the top of the building, just barely revealing the unique logo of an “S” for Scientology stretched through two parallel triangles. 

For many, the biggest question is: What is going on with that Church of Scientology building?

The Church of Scientology still owns the building. Previous reporting by The Daily Texan shows that it was supposed to reopen in 2019. That did not happen. 

However, the church’s connection to the UT community may soon be rediscovered, as it could reopen by the end of the year.

Jean LeFebvre, community liaison for the Church of Scientology, said the renovations finished right as the pandemic was starting.

“We were actually planning on opening somewhere around March (of 2020),” LeFebvre said. “Because of many restrictions in the community, we just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do a grand opening when there was the pandemic.”

LeFebvre said they were unable to open the church without the presence of the administrative members. However, the Austin administrative members were sent away for a training program over the last year and will only be available to open up the Austin facility once they are complete, LeFebvre said. She did not specify what the training was for, citing that it was for “executives.”

The new building takes up more room along the block than it previously did, taking up the space of what used to be a small bagel shop, a Vietnamese restaurant and an office copy store.

The newly renovated building has an additional floor, making a total of four, including an expansive basement. Within the building is a large chapel and auditorium that will be open to the public, along with a small coffee shop for visitors and members alike. 

There are also a number of rooms for spiritual counseling — what the Church calls “auditing” — and education groups for topics such as drugs and human rights. A group of Scientology volunteer ministers will also be operating out of the building.

Currently, the Church of Scientology is temporarily operating out of a building in the Hancock neighborhood just north of campus.

The church opened on The Drag in 1967 after two UT alumni, John and Gareth McCoy, started the center after studying in England, according to a Daily Texan article from 1969 titled “Scientology Cult Survives Critic, Gains Popularity.” L. Ron Hubbard, whose teachings Scientology is based on, lived in England.

Despite its presence near the University for over five decades, many students have looked at the church with skepticism and a sense of mystique. In 2016, a UT student created a petition addressed to former U.S. President Barack Obama to replace the church with an H-E-B as part of a class assignment, according to previous Texan coverage

Cathy Norman, director of special affairs at the time, stated that such behavior, albeit satirical, was “hate speech” directed at the Church.

“We’re right next to another church,” LeFebvre said. “We’re no different from any other churches. … As far as the misconceptions that people have, there’s only one way to handle that, and that’s to find out for yourself.”