Renovations inside St. Mary Parish’s beloved and architecturally distinctive 1896 church, and the addition of a gathering space, lie ahead — but the coming year will be about planning, laying the groundwork with engineering plans, permits and approvals from both church councils and secular government authorities.

“This next year, 2018, is the year for planning, before we can start an implementation,” said Dick Camuso, director of planning and operations for the church.

A “Gather and Grow” document presented to the parish in late 2017 envisions a “Phase I” in 2018 and 2019 that consists of two parts:

  • “Refresh interior of our existing church.”
  • “Add community gathering/meeting space to our church.”

“By the end of 2019, both projects should be finished,” Camuso said in a Dec. 28 interview.

“Phase I is probably going to cost about $2.5 to $3 million,” he said.

The Phase I projects are expected to be financed through the sale of five rental properties the parish owns — not including the house at the rear of the church property — and “a few generous donations” that have already been committed, Camuso said. There is another source of approximately $70,000 in the “old building fund” that would also be used.

“We should be able to finance Phase I without having to approach parishioners with a capital campaign,” Camuso said. “We expect that’s something we’ll need to do for Phase II.”

Still, the parish would “warmly welcome” further donations to the project if people want to give, and there will be opportunities for “memorials,” such as naming pews.

‘Phase II’

The Gather and Grow document describes Phase II — “five years and beyond” — as having one simple goal.

“Expand our church,” the parish flyer reads.

It envisions increasing church seating from 350 to about 650 or 700 and adding a new sacristy and also an adoration chapel (replacing the current adoration chapel in the St. Mary’s Hall building off High Ridge). Parking would also be added on the site.

Financing for the Phase II construction would be a “future fund-raising campaign.”

Refreshing interior

In the nearer term — 2018-19 — to “refresh interior of our church,” the Gather and Grow document calls for several items: new pews and kneelers, new floor and carpeting or tile, re-staining woodwork on the side walls, painting, and eventually moving the baptismal font to the planned “gathering space” envisioned being built to the east of the current sanctuary.

Plans also call for improvements to the “walking area in front of the sanctuary,” improvements to the sacristy, new confessionals, removal of existing confessional boxes, upgrades to vestibules in the back and side entrances, new doors at both front and side entrances, a new organ, upgrades to lighting and sound systems, “quality landscaping” in front of the church, and “improved safety/security/parking.”

The second goal of the 2018-19 Phase I is to add the “gathering/meeting space.” This would serve a list of purposes: “social gatherings for community and fellowship; coffee after Mass; after-event gatherings — baptisms, funerals, wedding rehearsals, etc.; crying room for families with small children; meeting space for ministries and scripture studies; pastoral and finance council meetings; speaker events (seating for 100).”

Timeline

The agenda for 2018 includes completing all the needed architectural and engineering drawings, which were begun in 2017. The church will also have to get necessary permits from the town. After that, the plan calls for the selling of church rental properties, going out to bid for the construction project, and proceeding with diocesan approvals.

“You get these drawings done, you get the permits from the town, and you go out to bid,” Camuso said.

The diocesan approvals involve a separate series of reviews by committees of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

A “sacred arts committee” would pass judgment on plans for the church interior.

“New pews and kneelers, new floors, etc. — they’d want to take a look at all that and make sure you’re maintaining the look and feel of a church,” Camuso said.

“And the same with the gathering space. When you add some new space, they want to make sure it’s consistent with their church standards.”

There’s also a building committee that reviews plans to make sure they meet all relevant standards and codes, and conducts an overall review that includes the financing plans — “to be sure, before you start spending a significant amount of money, you have the finances to proceed,” Camuso said.