In the course of its 130-year history, the large building at 81 W. Bayard St. in Seneca Falls has been home to two separate Catholic schools and a religious-education program. Now the building is host to another tenant: the offices and court of the Town of Seneca Falls.
The pastoral council of St. Patrick Parish in Seneca Falls voted in September to lease to the town the gymnasium and several rooms on the first floor of the former St. John Bosco School building, according to Father James Fennessy, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Seneca Falls and St. Mary Parish in Waterloo, which formed a cluster in 2007.
"They needed a place temporarily to have their offices and hold court," he said.
The town employees moved into their offices and began holding court in the building late in 2008, Father Fennessy said. Town officials signed a one-year lease that may be renewed for up to four years, he added.
"I hope right now what we have is a mutually agreeable situation," he said. "It’s not permanent, and we’ll have to look to the future as far as where we want to go. Personally I think it’s a good situation right now."
St. Patrick Parish has been debating the building’s future since the summer of 2007, when it was announced that the facility would cease to serve as a Catholic school after more than 100 years of Catholic education there.
The original building was constructed in 1879 and an addition was subsequently built. The building housed St. Patrick School until June 2005, when that school merged with St. Mary School in Waterloo to form the new St. John Bosco School. With 12 classrooms, a library and a gymnasium, the Seneca Falls building then was chosen as the site for the new school because it was larger than the Waterloo building, Sister of Mercy Kathleen O’Connell, then-pastoral administrator of the two parishes, told the Catholic Courier in 2005.
St. John Bosco School opened in September 2005 and operated for two years before closing at the end of the 2006-07 academic year. The closure was caused by an unsubstantiated rumor about the school’s potential closing; the rumor turned into a self-fulfilling prophesy when parents reacted by pulling their children out of the school, diocesan spokesman Doug Mandelaro told the Courier in 2007.
The building since has been used for St. Patrick Parish’s religious-education program, just as it has been for many years, Father Fennessy said. This didn’t utilize the building to its full potential, however, and both Father Fennessy and the parishioners knew they’d eventually have to make a decision about whether to keep the building, rent it or sell it, he said.
Shortly after St. John Bosco School closed, Father Fennessy, who became pastor of the clustered parishes in June 2007, conducted a survey that asked parishioners for their thoughts and suggestions about the building. One of the survey questions asked whether parishioners were interested in trying to restart a Catholic school at the site, and while some people expressed interest in this option, it did not attract overwhelmingly positive response, Father Fennessy said. Other parishioners wanted to sell the building to fund construction of a new building for parish or cluster events, and religious-education activities.
"Some said sell it, some said rent part of it and keep part of it for religious education," he said.
In the end, the parish decided on the latter option. In late summer officials from the Town of Seneca Falls approached Father Fennessy about setting up a temporary lease arrangement. The pastor then took the proposal to the pastoral and finance councils, which approved it.
Town officials could not be reached for comment, but the recorded notes from a Nov. 5 public hearing and meeting refer to the relocation of town offices to 81 W. Bayard St.
This arrangement is beneficial for the St. Patrick/St. Mary cluster because it protects the parishes from losing money on the building while parish officials try to decide what to do with it, Father Fennessy said.
"Financially you’ve got to do something with it. Just to have it stand alone and just to keep it going costs you something. Meanwhile the electricity dial is spinning around," he said. "(Now) we’ve got somebody in there for a little while that’s going to pretty much pay for it, and we can do some brainstorming."
Father Fennessy said he hasn’t heard any complaints or protests from parishioners and expects the arrangement to work out to the parish’s benefit.
"Nobody wants to be a landlord, especially in a big building like that, but the building is in good shape, the roofs are under warranty and the boiler is in good shape, so I don’t expect anything major to happen," he said.