The Renovation of
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH
OUR STORY… HIS GLORY
"We have to do something about the carpet in the church."
Variations of that utterance were expressed with increasing exasperation at almost every Buildings & Grounds and Finance Council meeting for roughly a score of years from the early 1990s until 2015. Inevitably what followed was the acknowledgement that we could not do only the carpet since there was so much else that needed to be done inside the church that should be done first to avoid ruining the new carpets as we did other projects. The collective psyche of the Parish congregation was also haunted by memory of financial distress in the not-too-distant past. Of course, there was also that old boiler that we all knew could go at any minute. And we had lost our school tenant without having a new one on the horizon.
By the dawn of the new millennium, we had a growing cash surplus, but we also had 9/11. The surplus kept growing nonetheless, and capital projects such as the roof replacement and the repaving of the parking lot were getting done on an annual basis out of cash flow. The boiler finally met its inevitable demise and was replaced. In late 2007, we found ourselves in the midst of a national financial meltdown, which made it difficult to think about asking parishioners for money. The Archdiocese was making it known that capital projects would not be approved unless they were fully funded in cash before any construction could start. We continued grumbling about the carpet, and the surplus continued to grow. The bright side of the financial crisis was the acquisition of Sage as a tenant in 2008. The surplus grew even more. At the end of our 2008 fiscal year, we had $286,000 in our surplus account and had signed Sage up to a long-term lease.
Despite parish frugality, the kick-off of a renovation capital campaign remained on the "to do later" list, although the itch to do it was growing in intensity. Recovery from the financial crisis was less than ebullient, and Fr. Sheridan was charged by Archbishop Meyers not only with running our parish, but also with being the Chaplain and Newman Center advisor for Catholic students at Ramapo College. In addition, rotation was on the horizon for Fr. Sheridan, and it was obvious that if a pastor was going to take on a renovation, it had to start early in his tenure.
In 2015, Fr. Gugliotta was assigned as our new pastor, coincidentally with the commencement of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark's ("RCAN") diocesan capital campaign ---"We Are Living Stones"--- for which Immaculate Conception was expected to raise several hundred thousand dollars. We had the option to run our own campaign simultaneously, and we seized the opportunity. A Capital Campaign Committee (the "Committee") was formed with Robert and Teresa Herpst as co-chairs, and Ruotolo Associates was retained to do a feasibility study. Before Ruotolo had even started their work, we had secured several large pledge commitments totaling $530,000, which more than met our We Are Living Stones obligation to RCAN. Ruotolo did 16 personal interviews with 25 people (10 of them couples), held three focus groups with 35 parish families, interviewed members of the Committee and did a survey which garnered 108 responses. Ruotolo's research indicated enough support for the renovation to get started. Ruotolo concluded that we could expect to raise approximately $1,850,000 to $2,500,000 during a capital campaign.
The Committee held a more sanguine view: that we might get in the range of $1.2 to $1.4 million, inclusive of our RCAN obligation. Both projections made some kind of a project seem feasible. Additional discussions with parishioners indicated that priorities included an elevator, keeping the interior space consistent with the exterior and preserving the stained-glass windows. The concept of what was "consistent with the exterior" seemed to mean somewhat varied things to anyone who expressed detailed views and would prove a challenge throughout the project.
We initially retained McCrery Architects, LCC to design the church interior. After submitting a conceptual design, James McCrery resigned from the assignment, stating that the firm disagreed with moving the tabernacle to the side of the sanctuary. The Committee was also getting adverse feedback from parishioners who were troubled by Fr. Kevin's poker-tournament participation which was portrayed in numerous internet photographs. The Committee addressed that issue constructively with Fr. Kevin by adopting expenditure approval and sign off procedures for the project similar to those followed by most businesses. Then Fr. Kevin abruptly resigned . We were back to square one with no Pastor and no architect. But, by then we had a fair amount of money collected which was safely on deposit at RCAN earning interest.
The announcement came that a new pastor, Fr. JM Manolo A. Punzalan has been assigned to ICC on November 15, 2016. Fr. Manolo immediately took on the challenge of getting the renovation back on track, and the Committee began to interview architects. After interviewing several architects, the Committee unanimously selected Greg Blasi (Vincentsen-Blasi Architecture) and Troy Joseph Simmons (McPherson, Simmons Brothers & Sons LLC), whose firms have