By Celine Klosterman
BURLINGTON — An aging convent on the campus of St. John the Baptist Church will be torn down, parish leaders determined in late August.
The expense of renovating the building — more than three times the cost of demolition — and limited potential reuses for the facility prompted the decision, John Bentler said. He is chair of Ss. John & Paul Parish’s Building & Grounds Committee, a Finance Council member and parish lay director.
“It has asbestos, the boiler’s shot, the wiring’s obsolete, and the plumbing’s old.” Brick walls are bulging out in a couple places, too, he said. “It all could’ve been repaired, but when you’re looking at the total responsibility to the parish, you have to be prudent about how you spend your resources.”
Estimated cost of exterior and interior repairs, replacements and upgrades to bring the building up to code was $285,800, according to a letter mailed to parishioners Aug. 24. That estimate didn’t include an elevator required to make upper floors in the three-story building accessible, wrote Father Marty Goetz, pastor.
Bids for demolition and paving the convent site for use as a parking lot totaled $89,640.
Some of the 14 parishioners who attended a June 6 meeting on the convent’s future suggested reuses for the building, including senior housing or offices for nonprofit groups, Bentler said. “But part of the problem is it’s right in the middle of our campus,” and outside groups using the convent would take up limited church parking spaces.
At its Aug. 23 meeting, the Finance Council received and affirmed a recommendation from the Building & Grounds Committee to demolish the facility, Bentler said. Fr. Goetz accepted their recommendation.
Ss. John & Paul began considering the building’s future as the number of Sisters living in it declined. Sister Kathy Braun, SSND, pastoral associate, resided there alone from Memorial Day to October 2011, she said. When she moved into the convent in 1999, four religious women lived there. Over the years, three of them moved — to her congregation’s motherhouse, to a skilled care facility or to ministry outside of Burlington.
Last fall, “I was told the convent’s boiler was old, and they were uncertain how long it would keep running. So they didn’t want to turn it on over the winter,” she said. So she moved into an apartment.
Sr. Braun said she’s sentimental about the convent. “The School Sisters of Notre Dame had a long tradition there … It was a good place to be. I’m grateful to the parish for providing housing for the Sisters all those years.”
But she understands the decision to tear down the building. “They just don’t have the Sisters, and there’s no need for it.”
Demolition will begin after asbestos is abated, Fr. Goetz wrote. No schedule has been finalized.
He and Bentler acknowledged some parishioners are emotional about losing the convent. But Bentler, a lifelong parishioner, said he’s not emotionally tied to buildings. “I think the Church is more than brick and mortar.”