The aged Queen Street hall was filled with parishioners Thursday night, many of whom signed a petition to keep Holy Rosary Hall open.
Following a prior meeting held at the hall June 20, Father Michael Basque presented detailed church financial figures, and told the crowd, “Our income has gone down this year, which concerns me a lot.”
With fewer newcomers funding the church’s weekly offertory envelopes, and the number of regular church-goers dwindling each year, the priest said that financially speaking, “The church has only had two really good years—2015 and 2017—and stated, “This year and last year, we are not doing well.”
The church has had to absorb the added cost of repairing its steeple recently, and the ongoing upkeep of Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Port Robinson, which the church owns, Basque explained.
He presented the cost estimate for the hall’s renovation from architect Raimondo & Associates, which includes a new roof, new insulation, which would save on heating bills, repairing some of the bricks which are “starting to fall off,” new floors, doors, LED lighting and electrical upgrades, HVAC units, exhaust fans, plumbing and accessible washroom upgrades, kitchen equipment and other upgrades.
“The total cost of all this, including HST, is $1 million,” he said. “It could be less, but we have to be prepared for this possibility, and that’s a real serious possibility. We have got to fix this hall right, or get rid of it, and I’m not saying we have to do it all at once,” he added, saying that repairs could be “staggered.”
According to the priest, “A realtor has estimated the hall’s value at $700,000.”
In his opinion, the church has three options.
“Number one, we fix the hall.”
The second option is to enter into a joint agreement with developer Tim Kenny, who would demolish the hall—built in 1961—and build seniors’ apartments.
“It’s what I’d hope would happen,” said the priest, “and I have already heard some of you want one.”
The third option is to “sever the property, sell the building and put the money away. If we do sell the hall, there’s the (church) basement. We are not in business to host social events. We are here to preach the gospel.”
If the third option is implemented, he said, “A new vinyl floor would help to “make the room usable. The basement floor needs to be flattened and leveled to eliminate the tripping hazard.”
“The city is growing,” he added. “We need to get more bums in the church. We have the potential for growth. We have to give people a reason to come to church. I don’t want to be worried about the hall.”
Basque said it’s his job to review the situation and make a recommendation to the Bishop, Reverend Gerard Paul Bergie, who will make the final decision about the hall.
“At the last meeting, I put forward an idea to maybe build some senior condos here in a joint use with the hall,” said Tim Kenny. “We’ve had time to look at a building plan. The builder would be PVG Homes,” who built apartments on St. David’s Road and “a number of other apartments, and they do good work.”
“The church would continue to own the land,” Kenny stated. “All that changes is the land would be leased to the condominium. This would generate for the church $36,000 to $40,000 a year.”
“On the main floor,” said Kenny, “a new hall would be built for 130 to 140 people, as part of the condo,” which could be used for the church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, as well as other organizations.
“The church could make sure that the activities that are maintained are conducive to the church. The hall would also generate revenue for the church, with better heating, lighting,” and other upgrades, “so it should run a lot more efficiently.”
The plan includes 30 to 35 condo apartments above the hall, with underground parking, an elevator within the condos, and a walking entrance at Queen Street ground level.
“Condos would be marketed first to parishioners who attend Holy Rosary,” he said, “and then go outside. Mr. Continelli and I would keep a certain percentage in a rental pool.”
Kenny said the project would be “probably three storeys” and would require rezoning, “But given the current need for seniors’ housing, I don’t think that would be a problem.”
Asked about selling the condos later, Kenny replied, “You could sell the condo, the same as any other. You own the unit, not the land that it sits on.”
“The church is the soul, but this hall is the heart” of the parish, said Mike Pennachietti, following Kenny’s presentation.
“We, the Knights (of Columbus), need more events to prove that this hall can generate the funds to help the church.” If the hall were demolished, he continued, “The Knights would be done, and all the other groups would be done. This hall is filled with emotion. My father put money up to build this hall. You cannot get rid of it easily.”
Albert Ciamarra agreed, saying, “It belongs to the past, present and future parishioners of Holy Rosary.”
“At our last meeting,” said Grand Knight Tony Scalzi, “we passed a motion that we support keeping the hall. It’s a vital component of the faith community, and the Knights of Columbus request that Father Basque pass to the Bishop our opposition to selling.”
The Knights, who host monthly beef-on-a-bun nights and other fundraisers, asked for two years to generate revenue by hosting various events.
The hall also hosts pasta dinners on the first Thursday of every month.
“I understand what you’re saying,” said Basque, “but we are dealing with now. We have lost money 17 out of 20 years. We need $39,000 to break even this year. Are we going to pay $135,000 on a roof and then six months later, tear the building down? We can’t keep that up. We have to act soon.”
Pennachietti asked to add a fourth option, saying, “I fully understand the dire situation of the parish. That’s not sustainable. But I believe if we’re given a chance, we could raise enough money to offset some of the deficit. Don’t rush.”
Basque said he “recognized all that the Knights have done, and I thank you for that, but I have to look at what’s going on right now. How can we raise $1 million for a hall when we can’t even pay our operating expenses?”
He was adamant that, “We are not having stag and does and wedding receptions here as long as I’m pastor—too many problems,” he said, based on drunken behaviour he witnessed at other parishes. “If that’s your business plan, forget it.”
Basque said the Bishop’s decision “will be made in January or February of 2020.”
However, he agreed to hold another parish meeting to discuss the issue in early January, if needed.