Ascension Church plans to raze its moldy rectory

Site will become a green space play area for students

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The Ascension Rectory is coming down, the sooner the better.

"We've been told there is two years of life in the building," said Rev. Larry McNally, Ascension's pastor, "but we're not even sure about that."

McNally made the decision after the parish's Long-Range Planning Committee and several consulting firms recommended the move, and following several open houses during which parishioners expressed "shock" over the condition of the aging structure.

The building, 815 S. East Ave., serves as both the pastor's residence and as parish offices.

Following a public presentation of the findings Oct. 20, McNally announced the news in last Sunday's parish bulletin.

"When I asked the director of Facilities & Construction of the archdiocese (who is very familiar with our buildings) what he thought, he told me, 'Take it down.' So we will take it down," McNally wrote.

In fact, McNally said, the archdiocese told him not to put another penny into the building. The estimate to redo the electrical system is $166,000, plumbing would cost an estimated $186,000. Professionals have told him they need to be out within two years to avoid the risk of a major fire. Mold is also a major problem. The archdiocese and parishioners are telling him he should leave sooner.

"I'm not leaving until we find a place for the rest of the staff," McNally said. "I'll go down with the ship."

McNally said Ascension is "not alone in this. A lot of buildings in the archdiocese are neglected and old. It's catching up to them." St. Edmund, 188 S. Oak Park Ave., for instance, has moved its offices out of the rectory in order to address problems with mold.

The Ascension parish staff of nine will eventually be relocated across the street in the old convent, as will McNally's office and residence, but that will require extensive remodeling of the second floor, and the first bid came in at $2.5 million?#34;too much, McNally said, for a parish which has a major church painting/restoration project set to begin soon.

"This won't stop that," he said. "We're going forward."

In the meantime, McNally has asked parishioners to come up with ideas for an interim arrangement. He expects to live in an apartment as close as possible to the church?#34;"I'll be driving to work," he said?#34;and they're looking for office space nearby as well.

The rectory will be demolished and turned into a green space recreation area (fronting East Avenue) for students, who have never really had a playground, and they will add a few more handicapped parking spaces in the blacktopped courtyard behind.

But the "adventure" began about eight years ago, said Bill Komala, an architect and member of the Building Committee, when they decided to do a long overdue building plan and conducted a survey of the parish campus. That led to a little historical detective work. The parish, founded in 1907, consisted of the school building, with classrooms on the first floor, and the church on the second floor. They have a photo/rendering of the rectory building in 1912 located adjacent to the school and facing Van Buren?#34;where the church is now located?#34;so he figures the rectory building is at least 94 years old.

In the late 1920s, Komala said, the rectory was jacked up, rotated and moved to its present location on East Avenue, just south of the church. They also took the opportunity to add an addition on the west end in order to add more residences for the extra priests needed to serve a growing parish. Komala said up to seven priests lived there from the 1930s to the 1950s. A second addition was built in 1954 on the southwest end, adding garage space on the first floor and residences above.

Essentially, Komala said, the problem is that the rectory now consists of "three buildings that are fighting each other." The moving and shifting has allowed moisture in and even though they tuckpointed and re-roofed at considerable expense, water, and the subsequent mold, are still finding a way in. Right now they're hoping, and praying, the rectory can make it through another winter.


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