In a surprise announcement, Father Paul Ring and Paul Slaney revealed that Our Lady of Grace Parish, owner of the Sacred Heart church building at 279 Main Street in Groton, is giving the historic building to the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts for use as the chapel on the college’s new campus on Old Ayer Road. Ring is the Our Lady of Grace Parish priest, which includes Groton, and Slaney is a member of the parish finance committee.
The surprise gift truly was a surprise to the college, which has been negotiating over the building since this spring. Asked to comment on the gift, Thomas More COLA President William Fahey wrote in an email this morning that “To clarify: no one has given us Sacred Heart church. I would be happy to be given Sacred Heart church.” Later in the day, he expanded on that, writing: “There is nothing official. Fr. Ring has made it clear that he would like to see TMC have the church. We have nothing but a gentleman’s agreement (which is good enough for me), but nothing on paper. Lawyers like paper and ownership requires paper. So, yes there is generosity of spirit and the desire to give TMC the church. And no, there is nothing on paper or official.”
Ring explained that because the church building had been a gift to the Groton Catholic community in 1904, he and the parishoners felt they should continue the tradition of passing the building on as a gift. Built as a chapel by Groton School in 1884, it was given to town residents by the school and moved on rollers to its current location in 1904.
Thomas More COLA is planning a staged fund raising effort. A first phase would raise money to move the church to its permanent location. Then a much larger second phase would fund construction of a new undergraduate campus in Groton. Early estimates obtained by the college to move the church building, construct a foundation and basement meeting room, put on a new roof, and make required repairs could cost $500,000 and may go higher, according to Charlie McKiney, Vice President for Institutional Advancement. The college hopes to obtain some of those funds from Groton residents who want to help preserve the local landmark.
Town officials have been eyeing the lot on which the church stands as a prime site for a new central fire station for about a year. The Sacred Heart building was listed “For Sale” almost three years ago for $600,000 dollars. The asking price was $499,000 when the town made an offer of $450,000 this spring. An appraisal of the building and land for the town set the value at $480,000 before voters declined to fund the purchase.
Town interest in the site heated up again this week when engineers reported that an alternate fire station site on Station Avenue may not work out. The Maguire Group, working for the Groton Electric Light Department, is trying to position both a GELD garage-office building and a four-bay fire station on land owned by GELD. If both buildings could share the lot, the town would reap significant savings. But first attempts to place the buildings ran into engineering problems, according to Town Manager Mark Haddad.
To maintain momentum in the push to replace the obsolete current fire station, the Board of Selectmen voted Monday night to put “place-holder” articles on the warrant for the October 17 Fall Town Meeting, in case the board decides to go forward with a purchase offer for the Sacred Heart church lot.
Haddad was following up on Monday night’s instructions from the Board of Selectmen to re-open negotiations by participating in a conference call with the Boston Archdiocese this afternoon.
“No price structures have been discussed as far as what we would feel would be appropriate for the property itself, building or no building,” Ring said. “We’re open to talking with the town to do what’s best for the town. I still personally feel that Sacred Heart is the best location for the fire station — I’m behind Chief Joe’s (Bosseleit) desire to make this happen for the firefighters in Groton.”
Ring is also the town Fire Department and Public Safety chaplain.
The average price of a residential house lot in Groton is currently about $250,000. This spring’s appraisal of the Sacred Heart church lot, which is slightly less than an acre, did not include a separate evaluation of that specific lot without the church building, Haddad said. Without the church building in place, the special business zoning that allows the church building would revert to residential.
Jane Allen, of MRM Associates Raltors on Boston Road, said that if the church building was removed from the lot, she would expect the value of the parcel to decline, possibly to around $250,000. Jeff Gordon, of Exit Assurance Realty on Main Street, had a contrary view, predicting that the value of the lot without the church building would increase to more than the $480,000 appraisal price for land and building because of its prime location.