St. James Parishioners Provided Progress Update
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
April 27, 2023
ROCKFORD—A surprise snowstorm didn’t keep parishioners from gathering in Beauvais Hall across the parking lot from an empty St. James Church to get an update on proposed renovations.
 
St. James Church, the oldest parish in the city of Rockford, sustained significant damage by fire after an early morning lightning strike Aug. 8, 2022.
 
Workers have been busy ever since the fire securing the historic building from further damage, assessing the extent of the damage and preparing for the repairs. 
 
For the time being the parish has set up a comfortable and reverent space in Beauvais Hall to celebrate the sacraments. And even though pastor Father Jhonatan Sarmiento has been regular in communicating both the steps taken and needed for construction and renovation to begin, he felt it necessary to invite parishioners together outside of Mass to hear from the various committees and experts working on the renovation project and also to give his “parish family” appropriate time to ask questions. 
 
“We did not invite the wider public or the media. We wanted to go over details with just the parish family,” Father Sarmiento told The Observer.
 
So, after prayers, the next two hours on March 25 included a very thorough presentation with PowerPoint slides, oral reports, current and historic photos and easels full of photos, artists’ renderings, charts and graphs to help parishioners understand the past, present and future of their 170-year-old parish church.
 
Addressing the group in addition to Father Sarmiento were Jodi Rippon, Director for Finance for the Diocese of Rockford, Julie Williams and Joseph Winkelmann of Larson and Darby Inc. who spoke about the architecture, engineering and interiors of the renovation project.
 
A list of committees and members were provided along with goals of renovation, which included a general overview of both repairs and potential upgrades. Besides the finance council of the church, committees have been formed to address construction, decoration and the sound system. 
 
How the insurance reimbursement for the damage would be covered was also explained and how that understanding will help guide both the selection of materials and set a fundraising goal. How much the damage cost and the cost of replacement, repair and any upgrades are the big questions and the ones still in the process of being answered. 
 
And that is exactly what Rippon, Williams and Winkelmann were there to explain — how the costs are being determined in cooperation with insurance and contractors.
 
Some of the materials and methods used 170 years ago are not available or are not acceptable to modern construction codes. Therefore, applying what needs to be done against the cost of replacement is part of the overall work. 
 
For instance, some of the church masonry was damaged by fire and water. And there was some masonry that needed repair before the fire. Winkelmann explained that the construction time would be the time to make those repairs but what part of that will be paid by insurance and by the parish is all part of the cost assessment process. Williams explained more about the parts of the church that would be upgraded, what needed restoration or repair. 
 
The project at St. James was outlined in phases with a timeline for each phase.
 
-- Phase I—Clean up, temporary protections of the building, insurance assessments and demolition (this phase is completed). 
 
-- Phase II—Roof system designed, plan review, bidding process, insurance and diocesan approvals. Part of this phase will include construction of a full roof replacement system and masonry repairs. (The project is currently working in this phase) This phase is anticipated to be completed in May.
 
-- Phase III—building interior restoration design, plan review, bidding, insurance and diocesan approvals and construction. Phase to begin in summer and completed in fall and winter of 2023.
 
-- Phase IV—Furnishings and equipment for interiors. Estimated completion is Winter (January) 2024.
About 70 people attended the meeting and appreciated the time afterwards to view material samples, examine the architectural drawings and visit with each other and project committee members.
 
After perusing the table with flooring and various paint samples provided by Larson and Darby, Jacque Bolger Buffo said she very much appreciated the presentation.
 
“Father is very good about giving us updates every week, but coming here and actually visualizing the materials they’re going to use is part of this whole journey — and it is a long process. Just to see what the timeline is going to be is very beneficial for all of us,” she said.
 
More updates of actual cost estimates will be reported in The Observer as they become available.
 
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