By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A group of Fishtown residents say they want to preserve a historic church that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed in March.
The closure came after an engineering report recommended the church be demolished, at least in part.
“No church should be torn down, if people want to save it,” says A.J. Thompson. The Fishtown resident lives in what he calls the “blast radius” of St. Laurentius Catholic Church on East Berks Street. He says he attends Holy Name Church, just a couple blocks away, but loves and admires St. Laurentius and its history:
“It was the first polish church in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” says Thompson, “they got together and scraped together and bought a plot of land and built this church.”
St. Laurentius was founded and built in the late 1880s. The tall towers and Gothic designs make it unique and its early founding makes it historic.
“We don’t want to be the generation that sees it go,” says Thompson, who says his daughters attend the parish school next door.
So Thompson helped form the Save St. Laurentius Church committee. He was part of the Save St. Laurentius School committee two years ago when his daughter’s school was threatened with closure. They beat the Archdiocese then and Thompson says, they plan to challenge the church officials’ damage assessment and save St. Laurentius.
“While we acknowledge that there are structural problems, they’re not as serious as we believe the Archdiocese is making them,” says Thompson.
Thompson says when the Archdiocese-commissioned engineering firm met with parishioners last month they did not say at that time that the building was in imminent danger of collapse. He says if it was and is– everyone in the area, should be concerned.
“My daughter’s school ate lunch in the basement of the church last month,” he says, “and I live right around the corner.”
“Anytime something is designated as unsafe or imminently dangerous, you cannot predict what might happen,” says Carlton Williams, commissioner of the department of license and inspection. He says the only engineering report that L&I has is from the Archdiocese and it shows serious structural damage. He says Thompson’s committee has until mid-April to present their own engineering report outlining next steps:
“There are enough concerns with the structure to say something needs to take place immediately,” he says.
Archdiocese spokesman Kevin Gavin says no decision has been made thus far with regard to the future of St. Laurentius. He says options range from $1 million to demolish the building to roughly $3 million to make repairs. A link to the engineering report presented by O’Donnell and Naccarato can be found HERE.
Thompson says the Save Saint Laurentius Committee has already hired their own engineering firm to give a second opinion and will present a completed report, with recommidations, to L&I in the next week or two. He says their committee will raise the money to save the historic parish.
“We will demonstrate the strength of this community,” says Thompson, “and we have a good chance to show that it should be fixed.”
In the meantime, the committee will meet at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8 at Holy Name Church. They have also set up a bank account for donations. More info is available on Facebook.