WILTON – The committee working to convert the former Sacred Heart Church on Maple Street into a community center has been advised to wait a year before approaching the town to ask for funds.
They need more time to complete a plan and raise money for renovations, selectmen said.
The group was advised to talk to the Catholic Diocese of Manchester, owners of the building, for an extension to hold the buildings for a year while the committee studies the issues and comes up with a plan, Selectman Steve McDonough said.
In the meantime, the Open Cupboard Food Pantry is sponsored by the Lions Club and will remain on the site. Groups such as the Boy Scouts will be able to continue using the building.
Other groups have expressed interest in using the facility, such as the ambulance service which lacks a large space for training sessions.
To make the lower level meet life-safety codes, including the sprinklers required to make the building into a community center, has been estimated to cost $190,000. The committee has said they wanted to first concentrate on the lower level and defer any work on the sanctuary until later.
The committee, which has been meeting weekly for the last couple of months, met recently with the Budget Committee, which said a more detailed plan is needed. They are considering a request for $20,000 for snow plowing, heat and lights for the short term.
The group has also discussed the church with the Heritage Commission.
Selectmen Chairman Dan Donovan said the group should create a nonprofit subsidiary of the town to allow the committee to accept tax-deductible donations for the project. He said he would look into that for them.
Selectman Bill Condra suggested they talk with the Lions Club Charitable Trust for help with grant writing. With a plan and some funds “you could approach the Budget Committee next year,” Donovan said, suggesting they talk to the Planning Board to see if they would accept “interim uses – what you plan to do now and what you plan to do later.”
The Diocese has placed a number of restrictions on the use of the building, restricting it to activities that are not against Catholic principles.
“I’m impressed by the work you’ve put in,” Donovan said, adding that he would donate.
It was agreed the committee would next talk to the Diocese to see if they would accept an interim plan.
The committee is planning a dinner for Feb. 18, and a brunch prior to Town Meeting.
Committee members attending the meeting were Chairman Nicole Colvin-Griffin, Donna Crane, Trent McDonald, Alison Meltzer and Amy Wood.
Last summer, the Diocese offered the church and parsonage to the town as a gift in exchange for the town taking over care of the Catholic cemetery. The idea of using it as a community center was almost immediately suggested and the committee was formed to look into it.
The Selectmen said they thought the condition of the buildings and the cost of making the needed improvements was too great for the town at this time. In addition, the property has little parking.
The church, built on Maple Street in 1881, is a classic New England-style with wooden clapboard siding and a slender spire.