LACONIA — Efforts to preserve St. Joseph Church are continuing, the Rev. Marc Drouin of St. Andre Bessette Parish said Friday, one day after a group expressed concern over the future of the 91-year-old structure.
“Our hope is that we can save that building,” he said in an interview at his office. “As a parish, we just spent approximately $100,000 last fall to subdivide the campus in hopes of preserving the building.”
The property includes the church, a school building and the historic Busiel House, which serves as the church rectory. The plan is to save the church and sell the Busiel House and the school building, Drouin said.
“We’re hoping we can still work collaboratively with the people of Laconia and the St. Joseph Church Preservation Society and all the vocal people last year who wanted to save the building,” he said. “We can all work to do that because it is not anyone’s desire to see that building come down.”
The society sent Drouin a letter Thursday saying it feared the church might not be saved.
Last year, the diocese backed off plans to demolish the church after a public outcry arose in favor of saving the structure.
A demolition permit was sought, but the application process stalled and no permit was ever issued.
One step in the application process was a July 10, 2019, hearing before the city’s Heritage Commission, which has the authority to slow down but not permanently derail a demolition. A lawyer for the parish said two commissioners should recuse themselves because of public statements they made on the issue. The matter was ultimately tabled and has not come up again.
In its letter to Drouin, the preservation society requested an estimate for repairs and hazardous waste remediation and an accounting of funds in a church fundraising campaign.
Estimates indicate the renovation work would cost upwards of $500,000, Drouin said.
Most of the fundraising money was spent on the Sacred Heart campus. Its parish center building went through a $1.8 million upgrade so that it could be the new home for Holy Trinity School, a Catholic school that had operated on the St. Joseph Church property.
The preservation society has expressed a willingness to create an endowment to cover the estimated $37,000 it would cost in yearly operating expenses to preserve a portion of St. Joseph Church as a Catholic chapel, but not to make repairs and renovations now needed.
“It remains our position that a fundraising campaign on behalf of St. Joseph’s necessary repair and restoration was commenced years ago and to the best of our knowledge was successful,” the society’s letter stated.
Drouin said the fundraising campaign was actually for the entire parish. When it became clear that the bulk of the money would be used at Sacred Heart, donors were notified and offered refunds if this did not meet with their expectations, he said.
He said he hopes money to repair St. Joseph Church could be found through “a joint collaborative effort” of interested parties.