$20M NEEDED TO SAVE CHURCH

New re­port gives As­sump­tion up­date

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - DAVE BATTAGELLO dbattag­[email protected]­media.com

Wind­sor’s his­toric As­sump­tion Church should be saved but it’s go­ing to take at least $20 mil­lion in fundrais­ing to do it, says a lo­cal lawyer brought in to pro­vide op­tions on the fate of the shut­tered land­mark.

“I’m very hope­ful the restora­tion op­tion is the one we go for­ward with,” said Paul Mullins, who vol­un­teered his time to in­ves­ti­gate what should be done with the 174-year-old church. “I be­lieve there is enough sup­port in the com­mu­nity and enough de­sire in the parish and dio­cese to go in this di­rec­tion.”

Mullins reached his con­clu­sions and pro­vided new de­tails on how the church — the show­piece of On­tario’s old­est Catholic parish dat­ing back to 1767 — can be saved in his lat­est re­port of find­ings un­veiled Satur­day.

“No one I spoke with wants to see the church fur­ther de­te­ri­o­rate or be de­mol­ished,” he said. “The clear ma­jor­ity of parish­ioners and peo­ple in the com­mu­nity would like to see it re­stored. The con­cern is whether the cost of the restora­tion is fea­si­ble and fi­nan­cial sup­port forth­com­ing.”

The next step re­quires a de­ci­sion an­tic­i­pated to be made quickly by the Dio­cese of Lon­don and Bishop Ronald Fab­bro in con­sul­ta­tion with the parish. The bishop will make a state­ment on the lat­est re­port in a let­ter to mem­bers of the parish dur­ing this week­end’s ser­vices.

Hopes to save As­sump­tion Church — should the dio­cese choose that di­rec­tion — would be bol­stered by pledges al­ready on the ta­ble. Lo­cal phi­lan­thropist Al Ques­nel has of­fered $5 mil­lion, pro­vid­ing his do­na­tion is matched. To date, four pledges to­talling $3.25 mil­lion in match­ing funds have been re­ceived, ac­cord­ing to Mullins.

On Fri­day, Fab­bro vowed to con­trib­ute an­other $1 mil­lion to­ward match­ing the of­fer made by Ques­nel.

The dio­cese’s of­fer would be “an in­cen­tive for other gifts and pledges to­ward the goal of $20 mil­lion,” said the bishop, adding the church’s con­tri­bu­tion would be pro­vided when the parish se­cures the nec­es­sary out­side fund­ing for the restora­tion to be­gin. Mullins de­scribed what has al­ready tran­spired as “an en­cour­ag­ing begin­ning ” to­ward a po­ten­tial $20-mil­lion tar­get and be­lieves Ques­nel’s of­fer will be matched by Christ­mas, get­ting the cam­paign “half­way home.”

Should $15 mil­lion be reached, then restora­tion work could be launched, he said.

“If we get to 75 per cent of tar­get, then the re­main­ing 25 per cent I would have all the con­fi­dence in the world it would be there by the time we need it,” Mullins said. The lawyer’s first re­port in Au­gust pointed to how an ini­tial ma­jor fundrais­ing drive to save the his­toric church nine years ago ended with a fi­nan­cial loss and finger point­ing. The fundrais­ing was shut down abruptly af­ter 2½ years with the lo­cal parish and dio­cese hav­ing to cover a $450,611 loss. That ini­tial re­port chron­i­cled how that $10-mil­lion fundrais­ing cam­paign, which in­cluded the re­cruit­ment of many high-pro­file com­mu­nity mem­bers, de­te­ri­o­rated into a fi­nan­cial and pub­lic re­la­tions dis­as­ter with Phil­an­thropic Man­age­ment Con­sul­tants, Inc. (PMC) at the helm. Mullins in his first re­port in­di­cated PMC mis­rep­re­sented ex­penses, skewed fundrais­ing re­sults and failed to pro­vide ad­e­quate an­swers when ques­tioned by the dio­cese.

The Dio­cese of Lon­don stopped hold­ing reg­u­lar masses at the church in 2014 due to its de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tion and in­ad­e­quate heat­ing sys­tem. Week­end ser­vices for the parish have since been held about a dozen blocks away at Holy Name of Mary Church on McE­wan Av­enue.

In re­gard to restora­tion es­ti­mates, Mullins called upon Al­lan Avis Ar­chi­tects, which the dio­cese of­ten uses for re­pair­ing his­tor­i­cal churches.

An ap­pen­dix in the new­est re­port sets a bud­get for ren­o­vat­ing As­sump­tion Church that ranges from $17.3 mil­lion up to $26.3 mil­lion, de­pend­ing on the vol­ume of work to be com­pleted.

The full amount would in­clude a new parish hall on the grounds of As­sump­tion. It also in­cludes an $800,000 op­tion for restora­tion of the church’s orig­i­nal cop­per roof. Based on feed­back from his ini­tial re­port, Mullins makes ref­er­ence to how a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of parish­ioners prefer to stay at Holy Name of Mary, feel­ing such an enor­mous amount of money could be bet­ter spent.

In the re­port, there are also es­ti­mates from Al­lan Avis to up­grade that church — which is over a cen­tury old — with restora­tion es­ti­mates rang­ing be­tween $5 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion. The higher amount in­cludes ex­panded park­ing and im­proved hall fa­cil­i­ties. Al­lan Avis also lists costs for con­struct­ing an en­tirely new church, that would in­clude a hall and rectory, at $13 mil­lion. But that ex­pense does not in­clude land costs or de­mo­li­tion of ex­ist­ing struc­tures. “Ac­cord­ingly, if restora­tion of As­sump­tion Church is to be un­der­taken, a bud­get of $20 mil­lion would pro­vide a pru­dent ini­tial fundrais­ing tar­get,” the re­port says.

A key fac­tor with any new fundrais­ing ef­fort for As­sump­tion Church is en­sur­ing all do­nated mon­eys go to­ward ren­o­va­tions, Mullins said. He sug­gests a trust ac­count be es­tab­lished by the parish un­der sim­i­lar stan­dards to what a law firm would put in place. “It would prop­erly track ev­ery do­na­tion and pro­vide ev­ery­one as­sur­ance noth­ing will be di­verted,” Mullins said. If the fundrais­ing ef­fort fails, all funds would be right­fully re­turned to each donor, he said.

In the lat­est re­port, Mullins in­cludes de­mo­graph­ics on the west end, cal­cu­lat­ing whether the parish can re­main sus­tain­able at ei­ther lo­ca­tion. He called it a “le­git­i­mate ques­tion” given how much of the sur­round­ing area is low in­come with dou­ble the un­em­ploy­ment rate of the rest of the city.

But the parish is bol­stered by rep­re­sent­ing such a large geo­graphic area, as well as its prox­im­ity to the Univer­sity of Wind­sor, the re­port said. At­ten­dance at week­end masses at As­sump­tion Church was trend­ing up­wards — av­er­ag­ing 1,200 in the three years prior to clo­sure. It has since de­clined a fair amount fol­low­ing re­lo­ca­tion to Holy Name of Mary at about 750 each week­end, but has re­cently trended slightly up­wards.

“It is the as­sess­ment of the As­sump­tion pas­toral team that a re­turn to As­sump­tion Church for week­end ser­vices would in­crease at­ten­dance sig­nif­i­cantly,” said the re­port.

Fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity is also pos­si­ble thanks to park­ing lot revenue on As­sump­tion Church’s grounds used by Univer­sity of Wind­sor staff and stu­dents. Gen­eral do­na­tions by parish­ioners and park­ing lot rev­enues com­bined for the last two years to­talled nearly $1.6 mil­lion, the re­port said. “The strong weekly at­ten­dance and healthy fi­nan­cial per­for­mance demon­strate the vi­tal­ity of As­sump­tion parish and is strong ev­i­dence that a re­stored As­sump­tion Church can be main­tained.” Rev. Mau­rice Res­tivo, As­sump­tion’s pas­tor, favours sav­ing As­sump­tion Church.

“My sense is the vast ma­jor­ity would like to see the church re­stored,” he said. “There is a sec­tor quite happy to stay right where we are, but my hope is the bishop will de­cide to take on the restora­tion and fundrais­ing.

“Based on the re­sponse al­ready, it makes me op­ti­mistic we will be able to raise the funds needed.” The re­port also high­lights the parish’s Indige­nous and French roots and sug­gests ex­pand­ing of­fer­ings go­ing for­ward — per­haps as an Indige­nous Univer­sity, since it was the Huron peo­ple who ini­tially do­nated land for the site. French pi­o­neers built the present church and three for­mer churches on the site.

Many parish­ioners are open to shar­ing the church, chapel and grounds with the en­tire com­mu­nity, Mullins said. Some po­ten­tial donors even in­di­cated they would con­trib­ute if “more was avail­able to the en­tire com­mu­nity.” Bishop Fab­bro in his state­ment added: “I am open to an ex­am­i­na­tion of ways As­sump­tion Church and Rosary Chapel could be made avail­able to serve the en­tire com­mu­nity.”

For­mer chair­man of the parish coun­cil Kevin Alexan­der de­scribed the lat­est re­port from Mullins as “well-done, clear and con­cise” and which points to a pos­i­tive fu­ture that he hopes leads to As­sump­tion Church be­ing re­stored. “The re­port shows we have enough sus­tain­abil­ity,” he said. “There are peo­ple who want to stay at Holy Name of Mary. It also has high her­itage value and im­por­tance to the neigh­bour­hood. But this re­port shows it looks promis­ing we will be able to re­store As­sump­tion Church.”

Based on the re­sponse al­ready, it makesme op­ti­mistic we will be able to raise the funds needed.

DAN JANISSE

Lawyer Paul Mullins, stand­ing in front of the his­toric As­sump­tion Church this week, is re­leas­ing his sec­ond re­port with op­tions for sav­ing the 174-year-old church, which was closed by the dio­cese in 2014. He says it will take at least $20 mil­lion in fundrais­ing to re­store the land­mark.

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