Well the time has come to talk about the exterior of the church and of the rectory next to the church. Back on June 2 of this year I announced in this column that we as a parish had contracted with the architectural firm of Kincannon Studios, in partner with an engineering firm and a general contractor, to conduct a study of the outside of our church. Specifically, we wanted to know what to do about the discoloration of the exterior stone that makes our church look so dirty and grungy. In preparing a bid for this study the architect quickly realized that many pieces of stone have fallen out of the façade, and our problem was more than just cosmetic, but structural. We authorized the study which cost $26,706.50.
As they did their study they found things worse than they had expected. In this column on August 11, 2013 I reported on their initial findings, especially about the heavily damaged condition of the stone cross on the top of the church tower and the pieces of stone falling out of the church façade due to rusting of the angle irons behind the stones that hold them to the building.
Finally on Wednesday, September 18 the Parish Property Committee had a presentation by the architect on the study’s findings. A digital copy of the report can be found under News on the homepage of our parish website at www.staustin.org. In a nutshell, the exterior of the church is slowly falling off. As the condition continues it accelerates. However, the interior of the church is structurally sound, and it is safe to use. But someone on the outside possibly could be hurt by a piece of stone falling off the exterior of the building.
The architect’s study recommended three solution options: one estimated at $2,849,573.88; a second option estimated at $2,589,347.40, and a third solution estimated at $3,674,593.34. Unfortunately, we don’t have anything like these amounts of money in the bank. And my experience of such estimates is that as conditions are more closely examined, more problems are found and the solutions only increase in cost. This is going to be an expensive affair no matter which way we choose to go.
So what are we going to do? First we are going to take down the stone cross off the top of the tower. It is just too precarious, being held up by chicken wire and plastic straps, which was an emergency repair done by the contractors on the study while they had the lift and could get to it. The tower will not look good, but in this case looks must be sacrificed to safety.
Second, we have applied for a permit to the city to erect sidewalk safety scaffolding around the north and east faces of the church and rectory. As soon as we receive the permit we will erect such scaffolding. I don’t expect it to be pretty, but it is the only responsible course of action. I expect we will get real used to it being there.
Third, we will study the options, seek more opinions, look at our finances and try to plan a course of action. With this in mind I am planning a meeting for parish leaders (Finance Council, Parish Council, Property Committee and others) for Wednesday evening, October 23 to get as many parish players as possible up to speed on the issues and on board with a process to find a solution. And of course we will be consulting with the Diocese of Austin.
Finally, and most importantly, we will pray. I strongly urge all of St. Austin’s parishioners and friends to pray for a good (and affordable) solution to this problem.