Saving the steeple is only part of the plan to transform a former Dubuque church campus.

Organizers behind the Steeple Square renovation project laid out their plans for the former St. Mary’s Catholic Parish property at 15th and White streets during a community event today.

“As this goes forward, Steeple Square becomes a centerpiece for the neighborhood,” said Jack McCullough, president of the broad-based, nonprofit group behind the project. “Wouldn’t it be a travesty if this place were to meet the wrecking ball? I equate it to saving the Fourth Street elevator or the courthouse or the Shot Tower. It’s an icon of Dubuque that symbolizes a community that cares about its people and its heritage.”

The parish was consolidated by the Archdiocese of Dubuque in 2010, ending 150 years of worship at the German-Catholic church. The property’s title was transferred to a coalition of business and community leaders called Friends of St. Mary’s.

The planned project will transform the former church campus. The multiple-year initiative carries a price tag of as much as $15 million.

“We have had a great start,” McCullough said.

The first phase will launch in May, when renovation begins on the former Jackson School. Twelve apartments will be created for clients who have graduated from the transitional housing program of Opening Doors, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Maria House transitional housing program and Teresa Shelter. The Maria House opened in 2000 in a church campus building at 1561 Jackson St.

“This will be affordable housing with supportive services,” said Michelle Brown, executive director of Opening Doors.

The former church rectory eventually will house offices for nonprofit organizations. The main church floor and sanctuary will become an event and community center. Nearly 20 events already have been booked for later this year.

Extensive restoration of the church basement area and its historic steeple will begin in the spring of 2017.

“The steeple is really important,” said John Gronen, owner of Gronen Restoration and a member of the Steeple Square board. “It’s really an icon of our community.”

Gronen said initial examinations of the steeple indicate the structure’s outside skin needs more work than its interior structure, which remains in relatively good condition.

“It’s in better condition than anyone thought,” Gronen said.

Northeast Iowa Community College will base two educational programs at the former church campus. A restoration academy, launching now, will provide certification in construction with an emphasis on historic renovation. Eventually, a culinary arts certification program will be based in the kitchen of the former church.

Fundraising continues for the project, which is also supplemented by tax credits and grants. McCullough said organizers will announce a large-scale public fundraising effort soon.

“We’re going to keep moving forward,” McCullough said. “We have a phenomenal board of passionate people.”

Lottery Mays, 25, lives near the campus. Mays said she is excited by the prospects of the renovation project.

“It will get people off the street and be better for kids. It will make the community safer,” she said.

The Rev. Eugene Kutsch is a retired Dubuque priest who grew up in the parish. He is now a member of the board for the Steeple Square project.

“This parish had a tremendous impact on the community,” Kutsch said.

He said the plans “are a very hopeful sign that this heritage will continue.”

“It will provide opportunities for youth and adults for this whole neighborhood,” Kutsch said. “It’s a great expression of community involvement.”

BY ERIK HOGSTROM
As published in Dubuque Telegraph Herald. View article here.