NORWAY — Parishioners gathered Thursday night at St. Catherine of Sienna’s parish hall learned the church council wants to demolish the Sienna House because it continues to deteriorate.

Once a bustling gathering place that was home to church and community activities, the Paris Street building next to the Norway church has been without heat for four winters, according to Monsignor Paul Stefanko. He gave a brief history of the white building with green shutters and said it was originally purchased for possible expansion of the church for additional meeting or office space. It was for sale at one time and put on the market with an asking price of $129,000. With no interest, the price dropped to $114,00 and eventually was taken off the market, he said.

Stefanko said he toured the building last fall and his heart sank at the condition of the Sienna House.

“Then came the realities of what we would have to do if we were ever going to resuse the building,” he told the roughly 18 parishioners. “That was a scary thing.”

The building needs new heating and electrical systems, a new oil tank, new windows and the chimney needs to be lined. There’s mold creeping up the walls of the basement and onto the first floor, Stefanko said. The plastered ceilings are flaking, the insulation isn’t up to snuff and the porch is rotting and unstable. The porch has been roped off and a no trespassing sign erected, he added.

If the parish were to use the building again, it would have to have handicapped bathrooms and the second floor wouldn’t be used because there isn’t enough egress in case of an emergency, Stefanko said.

“There’s some limitations on how we could even use the building,” he said.

The church received an estimate of $58,000 in May 2010 for exterior work.

“Obviously with the building not in use and not heated, there’s been further deterioration of the building,” he said.

While Stefanko said there aren’t firm numbers on how much it would be to renovate the house to a usable state, he and the church Finance Council estimated it to be between $150,000 and $200,000. He said it wouldn’t be prudent to spend that amount when the church’s operating expenses are running in the red.

“We do not have the money. We are not even paying our bills,” Stefanko said. “One of the trends we wanted to reverse was to quit dipping into savings.”

The Finance Council unanimously voted to demolish the Sienna House and the Pastoral Council agreed, save one abstention. Two bids for demolition have already been received. One parishioner asked if more would be sought.

“It really isn’t the most formal process. We will probably end up going through the more formal process [of soliciting bids] but we wanted to have some realistic information to share with people tonight,” Patty Leino, chairwoman of the Finance Council, said.

“I know the question had come up, ‘Well, why don’t we just sell it and take the money and run?’” Stefanko said.

A woman in the audience murmured “no.”

“That piece of property is worth more to us than it is selling it,” the priest said. “To have a neighbor there that’s right on top of us and have no control of what would happen there – we’re experiencing some of that with Our Lady of Ransom [in Mechanic Falls].”

Parishioner and Finance Council member Roger Castonguay asked if the building could just sit there without being razed.

“We would be assuming the risk of this eyesore,” Leino said, noting parts could eventually start falling off the building. “It’s not a situation we want to create for the public.”

Stefanko said there’s already graffiti on the back doors of the house and he worried about the building standing much longer.

“If anybody was ever to get in there to do some vandalism or set it on fire, it would come back on us,” he said.

Sylvia Michaud-Kessell has been a parishioner since the 1980s and said the discussion of what to do with the Sienna House has been going on for 25 years.

“It only makes common sense – the sooner it gets torn down, the better off the whole parish is going to be,” she said. “We won’t have any worry about anyone getting hurt or fire or homeless people shacking in. Once it’s down and the hole is filled up, it will give a positive outlook and thought for future use.”

Stefanko said information from Thursday’s meeting will go in the parish bulletin and on the website. The Finance and Pastoral councils will have to go before the Priest Council of the diocese with a proposal of what they want to do. If all goes well, the priest said the church could tap into its capital campaign fund and have the Sienna House demolished by spring.

Ideas for future use of the land include making it a green space, additional parking and room for the church’s expansion, if it is ever needed, Stefanko said.

Castonguay suggested asking the rest of the parishioners what should be done with the lot once the Sienna House is razed.

“There may be some ideas out there that we don’t know about,” he said.

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