May 28, 2013

As landmark Waterville steeple prepares to come down, community reflects

'We have six generations with that church. I feel like it's part of us, it's been there so long; but you have to move on,' says Robert Chenard, 75, of St. Francis de Sales demolition

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — The gold cross and ball at the top of the steeple of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church was removed and lowered to the ground Tuesday, 139 years after it was erected.

click image to enlarge

The cross that stood atop the steeple of Saint Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Waterville is hoisted over the church as the steeple is removed by sections during demolition on Tuesday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Onlookers, including Dave Begin, center, watch and photograph the cross and steeple removal on top of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Waterville on Tuesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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The cross removal was one of the final steps before the steeple and bell tower were to be dismantled later in the day.

"My great-grandparents were married there, my parents were married there, and I was baptized there," Robert Chenard, 75, said as he watched the removal. "We have six generations with that church. I feel like it's part of us, it's been there so long; but you have to move on."

Chenard stood with a camera in the rear parking lot of Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce on Elm Street with about a dozen other people who were watching the demolition.

The director of the Maine Franco-American Genealogy Society, Chenard also is vice president of the Taconnet Falls Chapter of the Maine Genealogical Society and a member of the Waterville Historical Society. He has lived on Pleasant Street, just behind the church, since he was 3, he said.

It was with mixed feelings that he watched a large crane from W.H. Green & Sons, of Augusta, remove the cross and ball, which touched the ground at 12:18 p.m.

"It's part of my culture; it's part of my being," Chenard said.

The crane company's owner, Gene Green, spent more than two hours in a bucket at the top of the steeple, sawing and hammering away until the ball and cross came loose and the crane slowly lowered it to the ground.

The cross itself is steel, Green said, shortly after stepping out of the bucket and onto the ground. The ball on the bottom of the cross is wood covered with tin, he said.

"It wasn't very heavy; it was only 1,500 pounds, or something like that," Green, 51, said. "We'll take the rest of the steeple down today."

After the steeple's removal, Danley Demolition Co. Inc., of Fremont, N.H., was scheduled to raze the rest of the church and plans to have the property cleaned up by a week from Friday, according to Allen Mitchell, of Dicon, a construction company owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Mitchell, who was at the site, is clerk of the works for the project, which will include building affordable housing for seniors on the property. The general contractor for the project is Zachau Construction Inc., of Freeport.

The parish hall and rectory next to the church at 52 Elm St. were removed earlier this month.

The 21,388-square-foot church was for sale for about four years and attracted no buyers before the decision was made to demolish it.

Corpus Christi Parish officials say the decision was driven by a shortage of priests, high heating costs and the cost of plowing and sanding. The cost to maintain the building was $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

The Diocese's Bureau of Housing bought the property from the parish and got the mortgage through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A separate company, St. Francis Apartments, Inc., was created to operate the future housing complex.

The new 34,071-square-foot building, designed by CWS Architects, of Portland, will be three stories tall and have 40 units. People 62 and older whose incomes qualify under HUD standards will be tenants, according to parish facilities manager Mike Hebert. He said if all the people who applied for housing qualify, the units will be full on the first day. The building is expected to be completed in June 2014.

An 18-unit expansion will be built in the future if HUD money is available, according Hebert.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Local historian Bob Chenard on Tuesday, waits with others for workers to remove the steeple from the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Waterville.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Gene Green works 60 feet above the ground, in a cage suspended from a crane, as he labors to sever the cross from the steeple atop St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Waterville on Tuesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Gene Green watches as the cross he separated from St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Waterville descends to the ground on Tuesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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A pedestrian walks past the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Waterville as the cross and steeple are being removed on Tuesday. The church is being torn down and a housing complex will be built at the location.

Staff photo by David Leaming

  


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