Menasha parish plans to demolish Seton Middle School next summer

By Jean Peerenboom | For The Compass | January 21, 2015

School is set to close in spring with TCCES transition to St. Mary Catholic Schools

MENASHA — Making and executing tough decisions can draw a faith community closer. That was one of the lessons learned at St. Patrick Parish as the congregation decided what to do with a school building that will be closed at the end of June.

A view of the entry to St. Patrick Church in Menasha. The parish announced that it will demolish Seton Middle School later this year. The school, part of Twin City Catholic Education System, is closing as a new facility opens next year near St. Mary High School. (Photo courtesy of St. Patrick Parish)
A view of the entry to St. Patrick Church in Menasha. The parish announced that it will demolish Seton Middle School later this year. The school, part of Twin City Catholic Education System, is closing as a new facility opens next year near St. Mary High School. (Photo courtesy of St. Patrick Parish)

Seton Middle School, which is part of the Twin City Catholic Education System (TCCES), will be closed at the end of the school year in June. A new facility is being built near St. Mary Catholic High School, Neenah. After July 1, the school system will officially change its name to St. Mary Catholic Schools (SMCS).

The changes come as the Neenah-Menasha area adapts to growth and demographic changes. The changes also mean local parishes, such as St. Patrick, need to make decisions about aging buildings.

The building that is now Seton Middle School was built in 1938 as a grade school for the parish. An east wing was added in 1960, according to Clay Quick, chairman of the parish pastoral council. Currently, the church maintains the buildings and TCCES rents space for classes.

The Twin City pastors and pastoral leaders learned of the decision to build a new middle school last year. “Early in 2014,” Quick said, “we put a committee together to look at alternatives for our property. (A local businessman) made an offer to buy the property for $1, raze the school buildings and sell the property. That was an option, but we were concerned about losing the property. We know we want to grow, and we already face parking concerns.”

The parish is hemmed in by businesses on a busy corner of Highway 114 in Menasha.

The committee, which was open to all parishioners, spent six months developing a plan for what the parish wanted to accomplish and could reasonably afford.

“If we kept the land, did we also want to keep the buildings and incur the cost of maintenance?” he said. This “do-nothing” approach could cost $60,000 to $70,000 a year.

Other options included selling the property and buildings, tearing down all the buildings and keeping the land, or tearing down just the older structures while keeping the land.

“One of the biggest issues for us is the heating plant for the church, (which) is in the old school. If we tear down the school building, we have to put a new heating system in,” Quick said.

Another unknown, he continued, is the parish office building. “It was built in 1960 as a convent. It was designed for a single purpose. Ten years later, it stopped being used as a convent and became a parish office building and faith formation center. Today, there are rooms upstairs that aren’t being utilized.” The committee wondered whether renovation should include making the parish center space more useable.

“We had to develop a lot of information in a short period of time,” Quick said. “We had to investigate asbestos abatement and heating systems – steam heat, hot water heat or forced air. We met with contractors to talk about demolishing the buildings and redeveloping the land.”

Pastoral leader Mary Krueger said, “I tried to bring everybody into the decision-making process. I was hearing different arguments on all sides. We wanted to hear from all of our folks.”

They held two town hall-style informational meetings and the committee presented their findings as objectively as possible, without offering a recommendation.

“I listened to their feedback over the next few weeks,” she said. “Most wanted to maintain the land and keep it … for future generations.”

The idea of creating some green space on their corner was appealing. “We always have a ‘Mass in the Park’ each year at Smith Park. Why not create space to hold it here? We have other family events that bring this close parish even closer. This would give us more space on our property to do this,” the two parish leaders said.

Quick said the committee took all the feedback and recommended keeping the land, but tearing down the school buildings and putting a heating system in the church. The price tag is about $600,000 and a capital campaign is underway.

“We’re a small parish (550 families), but we believe the amount doesn’t look insurmountable,” he said.

“Now, the fun begins,” Krueger said with a laugh. “We’ve formed three committees: building and grounds, fund-raising and celebration. The celebration committee is important because we want to celebrate all the good we are doing. We want to celebrate the years with the grade school. Many of our parishioners went through this school.”

The parish leaders hope to have a new heating system in before October and the asbestos abatement, which has to be done before demolition, done in August and September.

“From there, we will decide on the best time for demolition,” Quick said. “We don’t want to maintain the buildings over the winter, but we’ll have to wait and see if the timeline works.”

 

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