LEWISTON — Plans to demolish St. Joseph's Parish are off the table for the moment, city officials confirmed Thursday.
Central Maine Healthcare has temporarily withdrawn its application to demolish the 159-year-old church and the nearby rectory to create parking for nearby Central Maine Medical Center.
The city's Historic Preservation Review Board was scheduled to review the demolition at a meeting Thursday afternoon. That meeting was canceled.
Lewiston Director of Planning and Code Enforcement Gil Arsenault said it means the historic building is safe for now, but the hospital group could come back later with demolition plans.
"It does not mean they won't re-file and pursue the demolition," Arsenault said. "They can ask for a certificate of appropriateness, and there is no guarantee they can get it. It buys everyone some time."
Central Maine Healthcare spokesman Chuck Gill said the hospital group will use the delay to take another look at options for the site.
"Our intention is to conduct another comprehensive evaluation of all viable options for the church," Gill said. "We understand this church's significance to the community and the emotions around it, so we will look at it thoroughly. We'll conduct a comprehensive evaluation and come back in a few months, once that review is complete."
Gill said all potential uses are on the table.
"We don't know where we will end up because we are looking at all viable options," Gill said. "We won't know until we finish that work."
Central Maine Healthcare bought the 253 Main St. church and the adjacent buildings for $125,000 in May. The company filed an application to demolish the building in July.
Local residents and historic architecture buffs protested, saying the building should be preserved.
"There are some people in the community who I have communicated with who think they might be able to pull something off," Arsenault said. "Obviously, these folks own the building, so if someone wants to do something there, they'd need to work with the hospital."
According to an architectural and structural study and review of the church filed by Central Maine Healthcare, the building was constructed in the mid-1800s. Local historian Douglas Hodgkin said the building's cornerstone was lain in September 1865 and the church was consecrated in 1867.
The church itself was designed by Irish-born architect Patrick C. Keely, who went on to design more than 600 churches around the world — as well as a church in Bangor, one in Biddeford and two in Portland, according to Central Maine Healthcare's report.
Basement frescoes were added in 1877, stained-glass windows in 1917 and 12 bronze bells in 1926. It was placed on the National Historic Register in 1989.
The Catholic diocese decommissioned the church in 2009 and the frescoes and stained glass windows were removed.