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Wednesday, December 11,2013

Convent coming down

Some Moores Park residents saddened by St. Casimir’s plans to demolish its 85-year-old convent. Also, saving what’s left in three LCC houses downtown.

by Andy Balaskovitz
St. Casimir Parish Community is set to demolish an 85-year-old convent at the church’s Moores Park Neighborhood campus. To the disappointment of some neighbors who want to see it preserved, the building is beyond repair, a church official said last week.

Father William Lugger said the convent had slowly fallen into disrepair and now faces plumbing, roofing and foundational problems he estimated would cost $250,000 to bring up to code.

“It was one of those things we couldn’t afford to keep up,” Lugger said.

An application for a demolition permit has been filed with the city. Lugger said the church is waiting on the final go-ahead from the city to start demolition. The next use for the parcel is unclear.

However, the news set off a string of disappointed comments on Preservation Lansing’s Facebook page, a local nonprofit that focuses on restorative projects throughout the city.

Bonnie Tracy-Faraone, who lives in the Moores Park neighborhood, is a critic of the demolition.

In an email, she said the convent stands out positively on Barnes and argued that while the interior may need work, the building itself is far from an eyesore. She also believes the neighborhood wasn’t properly notified of the plan.

“I cannot tell for certain what the entire neighborhoods’ view is because this kind of came out of nowhere,” she said. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with that building from the exterior. In fact, it’s the nicest structure on Barnes.”

Lugger said the two-story structure housed up to 20 nuns at one point, and it was used as a school until the mid 1970s. After that it was used for a variety of educational programs, by the Knights of Columbus and, most recently, local nonprofits.

Peter Dougherty, outreach coordinator for the Meta Peace Team (formerly Michigan Peace Team), said his organization worked in the convent for about three years before moving at the end of last summer. He said the church was exploring other tenants, particularly within the Diocese of Lansing, to use the building.

“Whatever that plan was didn’t work out,” he said, adding that his organization and Pax Christi Michigan, another nonprofit organization, were asked to leave.

Dougherty cited water leakage as one of the ongoing problems in the building.

While he said “we knew it could always happen” that the church would demolish the structure, “We were surprised” to see the church follow through.

In recent weeks, anyone interested has been allowed to salvage interior building materials — such as doors and crown molding — and fixtures for a donation to the church’s food pantry. Lugger said the decision to demolish the building was made around Easter.

“I’m assured that what (Lugger) has planned is in the best interest of the community,” said parishioner Natalie Molnar, who is also the secretary of the Moores Park Neighborhood Organization. “I’m not worried about it.”

Molnar said she was speaking individually and not on behalf of the neighborhood group. Chong-Anna Canfora, interim president of the Moores Park Neighborhood Organization, declined to comment.

St. Casimir received parochial status in September 1921 and settled on the present-day adjacent lots on Barnes and Sparrow avenues, according to the church’s website. The convent was built in 1928 as the church continued to grow. Roberta Albert, who lives across the street from the convent, moved onto the block with her family in 1957.

“It’s a wonderful landmark for the community, but nobody was using it for anything,” Albert said, adding that she was unaware of any plans for it. Albert, who is also a member of St. Casimir, recalled playing ping pong in the basement of the convent with nuns when she was about 15 years old.

“I hate to see it torn down. I’d like to see these things preserved,” Albert said. “I’m sad to see it go.”

LCC houses on way out In other demolition news, materials inside three houses owned by Lansing Community College downtown are up for salvage, though not as many as some preservationists hoped.

Last month, Midland-based demolition company Bierlein started removing materials inside the houses at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Saginaw Street to be given to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore project. Some of the larger objects, such as doors and wood paneling, will be given to Habitat for Humanity once demolition starts, LCC spokeswoman Ellen Jones said. She could not say when demolition will begin.

LCC’s plans to turn the three properties into a park-like entrance to the downtown campus angered local preservationists who deemed the houses historic. The college bought the properties, which had tenants living there at the time, in May 2012 for $400,000. The houses, at 617 N. Capitol, 205 W. Saginaw and 211 W. Saginaw, were built in 1888, 1902 and 1898, respectively. The house at 205 W. Saginaw was moved from Townsend Street in 1949 and was partially built by F.N. Arbaugh of downtown Lansing’s Arbaugh Department Store.

Gretchen Cochran, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, believes more could have been saved from the landfill. Of all the “wonderful historic woodwork from these three big houses, it could fit inside a teeny closet.”

Todd Strbik, director of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores in Lansing and Haslett, said the store has received trim, doors, a mantel and “a few odds and ends.” The materials are up for sale to the public. Proceeds go toward Habitat for Humanity projects in the community.

Valerie Marvin, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, said her group hopes to preserve at least one of three items of inter preserve at least one of three items of interest in the Arbaugh house: a leaded glass window, a light fixture above the stairs or the newel post at the bottom of the stairs.

For preservationists, ideally, the houses would have been saved. And while Cochran hoped more materials could be salvaged, she hopes the idea of doing so catches on.

“I do give LCC credit that even a tiny (amount) has gone to Habitat for Humanity,” she said. “It’s a tiny inch of a new beginning of a new way of thinking.”

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