AUBURN — Architect Noel Smith began the public outreach campaign for the former St. Louis Church on Wednesday by asking senior citizens to share his plea for help in restoring the New Auburn landmark.
“We are going to be the caretakers,” said Smith, who is leading a company created to redevelop the almost century-old church. The organization is called Pilotage.
“We are putting together a program to make the building viable, but we can’t do it all ourselves,” he said. “I wish we had the money to do it. We don’t. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have enthusiasm and a plan to keep it going.”
Smith’s comments came at a noon meeting of the New Auburn Senior Citizens. The group had met in the basement of St. Louis Church for more than 50 years, until the church’s closure in spring 2013, organizer Virginia Levasseur said.
In fall 2012, a parish analysis found severe structural problems in the church. Issues included large cracks down a tower, cracks in a concrete overhang and a deteriorating stone crown on the roof. That winter, the church took down one of the bell towers and removed four bells.
On Tuesday, city leaders announced that $12,000 in private donations had been raised to buy the bells, cast in Annecy, France, in 1915.
The restoration of the church will cost far more. The Catholic parish estimated that repairs would surpass $1 million.
Though Smith and Pilotage bought the church building — paying a token $75 to the diocese — it doesn’t have the money to make big changes right away.
On Wednesday, Smith even disliked being called an investor.
“We prefer to be called ‘caretakers,'” Smith told seniors. “We are not from away. We are not deep-pocket developers. Our pockets are rather shallow. We have stepped forward and done this because we felt this building was far too valuable for the community in terms of memories of the past.”
However, Pilotage has done its due diligence, he said. The church has been examined by structural, mechanical and electrical engineers.
He and the other buyers — Daniel Dube, Donna LeBrun and Christine Holden of Lewiston and Mary Callahan of Auburn — have yet to decide what their first move ought to be to secure the building from further deterioration.
“You’re not going to see a lot of changes between now and springtime,” Holden said. However, she teased to events in the coming year.
“Sometime during 2015 we’ll have some sort of opening ceremony,” she said.
Meanwhile, Holden and Smith called for help.
“We are really looking for the support of anyone who is willing to help in any way,” Smith said.
Anyone wishing to volunteer is encouraged to call Smith at his Lewiston architectural office at 333-3060.