ITHACA, N.Y. — After several years of fundraising and planning, the new parish center at St Catherine’s of Siena Church is underway in Northeast Ithaca.

Under the supervision of Edger Enterprises of Elmira, the foundation walls have been poured and back-filled with dirt, subsurface utilities are being laid, and a new water line has been constructed to what was once part of the parking lot.

Plans call for a one-story, 8,878 SF (square-foot) building, with classrooms, conference rooms, a reception room and the pastor’s office. A previously approved plan called for a 10,811 SF structure, but the plan had to be reduced in size due to rapidly rising construction costs. The revised plan was approved late this past winter by the town of Ithaca planning board.

According to an FAQ document published by the church, “[o]ur current Parish Center is too small, too old, and too decrepit to serve our vibrant community. Important key indicators of parish health, such as Mass attendance, collection income, attendance in religious education programs, and participation in over 90 parish ministries, are growing. Most important, this is the decision that the parish made over four years ago, and we have been working toward this goal since then.”

St. Catherine of Siena parish was founded in 1960, with the church and existing parish center built not long after, in 1961 and 1963 respectively. Back then, there was still much suspicion and prejudice against Catholics; accusations were levied at presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election that, as a Catholic, he would “take orders from the Pope“. It might seem silly now, but that’s looking from the rear-view mirror of social progress.

The project is estimated to cost $3-$3.5 million. The Diocese of Rochester does not permit the church to go into debt to build new structures, so the money has to come from the parishioners and the church itself. The former pastor, Rev. Michael Mahler, left money for the church in his bequest, St. Catherine of Siena had leftover funds from a 2003 campaign and from their repairs budget, and the parish sold off a plot of land on neighboring Blackstone Drive to fund construction. The rest comes from member donations.

Plans call for a late 2016 opening. Once the new parish center is occupied, the old parish center will be taken down and its footprint converted into new parking spaces to replace those lost to the construction of the new facility. The new center will be physically connected to the church, directly to the church’s west by about 40 feet.

Richard McElhiney Architects of New York City is the project architect. Local firms T.G. Miller PC (engineering work), Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects (landscaping), and TAITEM Engineering (rooftop solar panels) are also playing a role in the buildout.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.