A group hoping to halt demolition of a nearly century-old Tacoma church is asking the Archbishop of Seattle to walk back the controversial decision. And Tacoma’s mayor has spoken in favor of preserving the landmark, which can’t be demolished without city approval.
Last month, church leadership announced that Holy Rosary Catholic Church – visible from Interstate 5 and throughout much of Tacoma – was too costly to maintain in the coming years and would be demolished instead.
The decree has galvanized members of the parish who are skeptical of the $18 million price tag put forward by the Archdiocese. They believe they can raise enough money to reopen the church.
“These estimates are always done conservatively,” said Jonathan Carp, a board member of Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church. “We believe it is irresponsible of the Archdiocese to go around touting an $18 million figure to scare people off, when they know the actual cost is very likely to be lower.”
On Friday, Carp’s group intends to submit its formal appeal – a process that first goes to the Archdiocese of Seattle and could eventually end up in Rome.
The appeal argues that the building is not damaged beyond repair and there are enough financial resources in the community to fix it up.
‘SHOCKED’ BY DECISION
Holy Rosary was fenced off last year after a piece of sheetrock fell from the ceiling.
The decision to raze the church surprised many in the congregation, among them Todd Wolf.
Wolf was part of the team that assessed the damage to the church for the Archdiocese and developed estimates of how much it would cost to repair the building.
“I was shocked, frankly, knowing the limited kind of damage that has occurred,” said Wolf who is Managing Principal of NEXUS, a Tacoma-based building enclosure consulting company. “The building really is quite significant in both its architecture and its prominence in the community.”
Wolf characterizes the damage to the ceiling as an “easy fix and primarily a maintenance issue,” not an indication of broader structural problems with the roof.
He said repairing the church so it’s safe enough for worshippers to re-enter would cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.
According to the Archdiocese’s decree, that number is closer to $2.25 million and future costs will reach $18 million. But Wolf points out that represents long-term costs – such as seismic upgrades and replacing old electrical and plumbing systems – all of which is unrelated to why the church was closed in the first place.
“When we initially started our assessment, that wasn’t what we were looking at because we knew that was a much more involved and deeper issue than the immediate concern of keeping water out and keeping the building solid for continued use,” Wolf said.
Wolf believes there needs to be a more in-depth examination of the building to firm up the cost estimates and determine what repairs are most pressing.
“It very quickly escalated from getting back into the church to an $18 million project,” he said. “That is a pretty large expanse, and there are a lot of steps that could be done in phases to allow this work to be performed over time.”
Most older religious buildings will have some sort of structural deficiency, Wolf added.
CITY APPROVAL REQUIRED
The City of Tacoma will have to greenlight the Archdiocese’s plan to demolish Holy Rosary.
Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards told supporters of Holy Rosary last week that she doesn’t want to see the church torn down, either.
“We have 11 other churches on Tacoma’s historic register, and this is probably one of the grandest of them,” said Reuben McKnight, Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Tacoma.
The city has not yet received any permit applications related to demolishing the church.
Because Holy Rosary is a registered city landmark, the Archdiocese also would need the approval of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
As part of that process, McKnight said an applicant has to make “a compelling argument about the condition of the building” and “the economic feasibility of rehabbing, restoring or stabilizing the building.”
The commission would then hold a public hearing on the proposal before making a decision on the application.
“The demolition of a registered landmark in Tacoma is really quite rare,” McKnight said. “We try to avoid that as much as possible.”
LOOKING TO NEW LEADERSHIP
Proponents of saving Holy Rosary will make their case to a different archbishop than the one who handed down last month’s decision to raze the building.
Earlier this week, Paul D. Etienne was appointed Archbishop of Seattle, following the resignation of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain due to health reasons.
It’s not clear if Etienne holds a different view on the viability of the church than his predecessor.
“The change of the Archbishop does not impact the decree itself or the recourse period,” said Helen McClenahan, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Jonathan Carp with Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church said he’s hopeful Etienne will meet with the parish and “hear the voices of people of Tacoma who want to preserve their beautiful heritage.”
If Archbishop Etienne does not reverse the decision to demolish the church, Carp’s group has the opportunity to send its appeal to Rome.
Carp said they are not expecting the Archdiocese to cut a check for $18 million to repair Holy Rosary.
“We’re just asking for the Archdiocese to suppress this decree and join us in our fundraising efforts to save the church.”