'Challenges' for Brunswick church's proposed event center

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BRUNSWICK — Plans for a 14,700-square-foot, $4.75 million event center at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on Pleasant Street received mixed reviews from a town board Tuesday night.

The concept has been in the works for about 10 years, church leaders say, but the need for a parish-wide gathering space emerged recently after St. John the Baptist merged with other Mid-Coast churches to form All Saints Parish.

The new building would house a gymnasium, stage, music room, kitchen, chapel, meeting room, locker rooms and bathrooms, according to project designs.

The second phase of the project, to be completed after the event center, would include demolition of the old convent and St. John’s school, and their replacement by a two-story, 13,200-square-foot school.

On Tuesday, architect Scott Simon, whose firm has designed large projects that include the Portland Public Library and Casco Bay Ferry Terminal, walked the Village Review Board through the building’s proposed design in a workshop.

The goal, he said, “is to try to create a harmony between the new building and the old (church) … a dialogue.”

Such a dialogue would be created by a green metal roof to complement the church’s copper top, and a synthetic stone face designed to match St. John’s color and texture, he said.

The building would have a hip roof to let more natural light into the gym space, and stained glass salvaged from the convent would be installed in a new adoration chapel, he added.

Some board members were initially pleased with the design. “The materials are terrific,” board member Connie Lundquist said.

But board member Laura Lienert, who was previously critical of the project as a member of the public, had a lot of reservations.

One of the board’s criteria for projects, she said, is that “new construction has to be visibly compatible with existing mass and scale.”

The new building “is bigger than the church itself … that’s a massive building,” she said. St. John’s church is about 14,000 square feet.

Board Chairman Gary Massanek said Simons had designed a very successful “urban campus.” But he took issue with how “inward turned” the project would be.

He pointed out that the wall that faces Pleasant Street is actually the back of the stage on the inside. The main entrance to the building, which has large glass windows, faces away from the one-way traffic on Pleasant Street.

“I think there are challenges here,” he said. “(It) doesn’t greet the public in a lot of ways.”

Mitchell Brown, of Pleasant Street, also spoke critically during public comment. The new event center, he said, “chang(es) the fundamental composition of this residential neighborhood.”

“This is an enormous building,” he added.

Near the end of the workshop, Simons tried to lift the mood, saying the conversation had taken a negative turn.

“(There’s) nothing happier in a neighborhood than a school,” the architect said. “I ask you to think of it in those terms as well.”

The project next goes before the Planning Board Tuesday, July 26, for a review of the proposed common development plan.

A common development plan is an agreement that involves multiple buildings on a property that will be built by a single developer over time. It allows the applicant and the board to codify design aspects like architecture, parking, and landscaping that will apply to all future phases of the project.

It also preserves existing zoning regulations for future development on the site.

Charlie Wiercinski, a parishioner who is taking a leading role in the project planning, said Tuesday that they hope construction could start as early as 2017.

The parish has a $5 million fundraising goal, and “(we’re) confident and optimistic that that will be met,” he said. “Failure is not an objective.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

A rendering of a proposed $4.75 million event center at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on Pleasant Street in Brunswick.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.