TOWNSEND -- After a fire destroyed their parish center just over a year ago, St. John the Evangelist Parish is looking to rebuild.

On Dec. 20, church staff filed a proposal with the town clerk to build a new parish center on School Street. A Planning Board public hearing has been set for Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. At that time, architect Richard Monahon Jr. and engineer Jesse Johnson of David Ross Associates will be presenting the design plans to the board.

At that point, the board will review any comments from other boards, departments and members of the public, said Planning Board Administrator Jeanne Hollows. If they don't require more information and they choose to close the public hearing, they have 65 days make a decision.

After filing an official vote with the town clerk, there is a 20-day appeal period for the public. If no appeal is filed within that period of time, then the decision will be recorded with the registry of deeds and the church can move forward with the permitting process with the Building Department for new construction.

On Dec. 30, 2011, flames incinerated the former activity center after a fire from a neighboring property blew over to the building. The Fire Department quenched the flames, but the building was unsalvageable. The building had been used largely for the church's religious education classes. But, having been originally designed as a house and then later converted into its purpose for the church, it didn't function as well as it might otherwise have been able to.


Now, with the opportunity to build a center specifically for the purpose, the design will better suit the needs of the church.

"I think we'll end up with more space. It depends on how you look at the old space," said the Rev. Jeremy St. Martin. "A lot of the space was hard to use. This will be a more efficient use of space."

Additionally, the building will be designed to match other buildings in the center of town, both with in its height and width ratio and in its shape.

The building will be L-shaped about 20 feet away from Father Mealy Hall to keep within fire codes. To build the center closer to the hall would require the construction of an expensive fire wall.

The building will not lie on the footprint of the former building; rather, the previous space will be turned into a parking lot for the new building. The church recently erected temporary trailers in the space in order to house the religious education classes as they went through the design process. Once the temporary buildings are removed, the land will be flattened and graded for parking in the future.

The design will be set back 50 feet from the edge of the property line for safety purposes and to allow for easy snow removal.

"We don't want the new construction to be bringing people to the outer streets. We want to make sure people have access to the building from the parking lot," said St. Martin. "It makes it safer and more secure, especially for whenever children are about. It's an important thing for us."

The additional space will also address the issue of parking, which the church faced with their old building.

Another of the church's goals is to keep costs low.

"We're trying to be fiscally responsible and not put ourselves into debt," said St. Martin.

For the most part, the project is being funded through the insurance of the previous building. The church also has been saving funds for the project and is considering asking for a loan from the Archdiocese of Boston. St. Martin expects the project to be affordable.

"It's a simple building that will be easy to build and not very expensive, but for us, because we don't have a history of a very fancy activity center, it will be quite an upgrade," he said.

The church is hoping to break ground by spring and have the building completed by the fall.

Once the building is complete, it will house not only religious education but also, among other things, Knights of Columbus meetings, Scouting events, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and the parish's finance council meetings.

"Hopefully for the town it will be an improvement in terms of how the property looks," said St. Martin.