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Some thoughts on St. Francis Church

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The Aug. 15, 2021 edition reported that the proposed changes to the St. Francis church in Hamilton seem to be headed to court as the neighborhood opponents continue to challenge zoning decisions by the city of Hamilton regarding the rebuild. Opponents seem to use complaints about city procedures used in deciding about set-back and parking to keep the exterior of the building in place nestled close to streets and walks in the northwest corner of Ravalli and Fifth streets.

About six years ago the church looked at needed replacement of the roof, then estimated at over $50,000 and replacement of about half of the wood siding that had dry rot or wouldn’t hold paint, at about $250,000. Those repairs would not have remedied structural concerns and other issues such as handicap accessibility and capacity, inside issues. After looking at an extensive remodel, St. Francis shifted to rebuilding on the same site that included a very expensive removal, refurbishment and reinstallation of the current bell tower. Plans also included general styling of the new building to mimic the current building.

During 30 years of military service around the globe and 20 years since retirement I have worshiped in and visited non-sectarian military chapels that took many shapes, as well as community churches. I wonder about the squabbles over the outside of St. Francis Church. I have visited many of the most renowned religious structures around Europe and Asia, but marvel at the outside or the inside did not change the heart of worship. Why doesn’t St. Francis just focus on the needed modernization of the inside by an expansion that leaves most of the old building standing?

Although not explicitly stated it seems that the opponents want to keep the current postcard exterior that is about 125 years old as is. They may or may not care about needed repairs to the outside. How about a different approach after more than six years of stalemate with more time-passage looming? Maybe Hamilton and the church should consider a modified rebuilding plan that retains the old structure that runs east to west, which should satisfy the opponents by keeping the aging structure. (Will they help in needed repairs?) And there would be no need for the expensive bell-tower removal and restoration. The inside of the old building could meet some of the design and space needs of the church while an attached expansion/extension that runs north to south using open ground could provide great opportunity and flexibility to meet other design needs. This north to south body of the church could ease access to the parking lot to the west of the church as parking is a prime issue for the opponents and easily meet set-back and other zoning issues. And the real needs of the St. Francis parish to update the interior could proceed.

— Frank Prochazka, Corvallis

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