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Stonington - A year after their church was forced to close because of structural problems, parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Pawcatuck got their first look Monday at the preliminary design for a new $12 million church.
During two meetings Monday at St. Mary Church in the borough, where St. Michael parishioners have attended Mass since the closure, pastor Dennis Perkins and the project architect outlined the design for a larger church that will retain much of the character and feel of the current building.
Perkins reminded the 70 people who attended the 90-minute afternoon meeting that it was a year ago when they gathered in the same space to deal with sad news of the church and chart the future of the parish.
"This year we are gathering on a happy occasion because we are seeing the vision of our future," he said.
Perkins repeatedly stressed that the design is preliminary and suggestions from parishioners at the two meetings as well as in an upcoming survey will be used by the building committee and Donham & Sweeney Architects of Boston to modify the design this summer. A revised plan will be presented to parishioners this fall.
"I don't want anyone here today to think anything is set in stone," he said. "There's no final decision. This is just a step in the process."
Perkins said the church has to set priorities for the project - what to include, what not to include and what work can be deferred, all of which could alter the eventual price tag.
"There lots of opportunity for changes and adjustment," added Brett Donham, whose firm has extensive experience designing churches.
The design calls for a 20,500-square-foot church that would seat 500 people compared to the current 13,000-square-foot building that seats 425 to 475. The front of the new church would face cars driving south on Liberty Street.
The church would also have wider aisles, full handicapped access, more efficient radiant heat and a parish hall on the lower level that would accommodate 176 people with a large kitchen and offices. A new driveway off Liberty Street would allow people to be dropped off at the front of an expansive entrance and lead to additional parking.
The church would look much like the current church and reuse items such as the stained glass windows and lights. Perkins said the church is designed to accommodate future needs and be energy efficient. It is projected that the final design, permitting, demolition and construction would take 18 months.
When Perkins asked the parishioners if they liked the design Monday afternoon, they applauded.
Perkins said Friday was "a bad night" when he first learned the cost of the project, which he said was far more than he anticipated.
"But I got over it by Saturday morning,," he said, adding that Donham told him there may be someone who sees the design and makes a substantial donation to go along with contributions from parishioners.
The church has almost $1 million left in its 2011 capital campaign and would be able to borrow as much as $3 million, Perkins said.
"This is what the dream looks like and this is what the dream costs," he said.
Perkins reminded the parishioners of the Gospel miracle in which Jesus feeds a crowd of thousands with just two fish and five loaves of bread with food left over.
"We also have to be a people of faith. The Lord can take the little we have and make something great," he said. "It's not money that builds the church but faith."