St. John has plan to build new church Renovation of school, rectory, convent part of $3.6 million plan

Standing room only

Parish is expecting 3,000 additional parishioners by 2005

March 12, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Leaders at St. John Roman Catholic Church in Westminster have unveiled a $3.6 million construction and renovation plan that includes a new church with a seating capacity that would rival Baltimore's Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

The proposal also calls for expanding the elementary school, converting the rectory into offices and meeting rooms, renovating the convent into a home for the priests and building smaller living quarters for the religious staff on the 29-acre property, between Route 140 and Monroe Avenue.

"Our facilities are taxed beyond belief," said Joseph Beaver, planning committee chairman.

At most of last weekend's six Masses, the 700 seats are taken, leaving standing room only for several hundred people. The crowds keep coming to the 130-year-old parish, which is quickly becoming one of the largest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The Rev. Arthur F. Valenzano, pastor to the 3,500 families in the parish, estimates that he speaks to 1,000 people by 1 p.m. every Sunday.

For 14 months, a nine-member committee has grappled with how to make the best use of five existing buildings. Before any construction can begin, the parish must raise the entire construction cost to win the approval of the archdiocese.

In 1972, St. John had about 400 families and moved from Main Street to a new 11,100-square-foot church. Now, its three priests address the spiritual needs of 12,000 people. If growth projections hold, nearly 5,000 families -- about 15,000 people -- will belong to St. John by 2005.

Many of the 300 people who attended a meeting at the church Sunday night expressed fears that their parish would become "a megachurch with no intimacy, where we know less and less people."

St. John would have to raise twice the money pledged in 1990, when its late pastor began a $1.8 million building fund for a multipurpose center. That one-story addition to the school opened in 1992. Its rooms are filled every evening by various groups and religious education classes. The first phase of a five-step plan calls for converting four of the center's rooms into permanent classrooms for the school at a cost of $70,000.

School enrollment at the only Catholic elementary in Carroll County is projected to increase from 400 to 600 in kindergarten through eighth grade.

After all other renovations are complete, the remaining four rooms in the center also would become classrooms. The cost would be $55,000.

The committee worked with Arbaugh Architects in Westminster to arrive at the most feasible and appropriate plan.

Enlarging and renovating the 24-year-old church building would cost about $2.4 million. Construction of a more traditional two-story church building would cost about $2.6 million and would allow the parish to lease the older structure for social functions. Members opted for a new building, which could easily be extended later. Included in the architectural plans for the new church, which would have a full basement, are a possible balcony and two wings. If those additions were built, the building could seat 1,500.

Steve Powell, concept facilities chairman, said building a new church and converting the old one into a Friendship Hall would give the parish revenue potential.

"We could get two buildings for the price of one renovation," said Mr. Powell. "The hall could become self-supporting and could be in constant use." Utilities for the church cost about $10,000 annually. The cost of converting the circular church building would depend on factors such as a commercial kitchen and upgrading amenities.

The estimated cost is $480,000. Several congregations earn as much as $250,000 annually from hall rentals, Mr. Powell said.

Also proposed is $110,000 for a smaller convent for the religious staff, which consists of two nuns assigned to the school. The current convent and a 1,000-square-foot addition would become a home for the three priests, two seminarians and any visiting priests. That renovation would cost $98,000.

Once vacated, the old rectory would get a $178,000 renovation into parish offices and meeting rooms. That building would provide much-needed space for religious education classes for more than 2,000 children.

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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