By Tanya Connor
No decision has been made about what to do with St. Anne Church, 162 Center St., Ashburnham, which is in danger of collapse and must be made safe or removed, according to diocesan and town officials who met Monday.
“This building is unsafe and dangerous and would be especially dangerous in case of fire, because of the proximity to a public way and the public at large, and the impending weather,” Building Commissioner Richard C. Reynolds said in a letter to the Diocese dated July 8. “You are hereby ordered to make safe or remove this unsafe building.”
The Diocese has the right to appeal this order within 45 days, Mr. Reynolds said in the letter. He also offered his assistance with rebuilding or removal.
Raymond L. Delisle, diocesan chancellor and director of the Office of Communications, said the parish is in the process of responding to this order by figuring out what needs to be done. He said options must be investigated and that will take time.
Father John F. Hamm, who became administrator of St. Anne’s and neighboring St. Denis Parish on July 1, said the options are to remove the condemned, unsafe building or make it safe. He said it is up to the Diocese what happens next, and he will probably be involved in the process.
Mr. Reynolds’ letter said that he and Ashburnham Fire Chief Paul Rekos and Joseph Oliver, alternate electrical inspector, inspected the building on July 8.
The letter said the inspection revealed the following violations of the state building code: The building is unsafe, has structural failure and is in danger of collapse. Under no circumstances should anyone be on the roof, which is rotted in many areas and leaking into the bell tower. Roof leaks have caused floors to rot, and mold and mildew to form in the basement. Wet, shorting old wiring was to be disconnected July 9. Boilers are rusted and in poor shape, steam lines are not insulated and the leaking oil tank must be addressed immediately. Side exits are rotted and unsafe, the exterior hand rails are rotted and falling, “panic hardware” is needed on many doors and no exit signs are illuminated; exit lights are not functioning properly. There is also metal blowing off the building.
Father Hamm said the utilities were shut off July 9. He said that on July 14 the oil in the tanks was removed and donated to a parishioner, and a licensed contractor removed the tanks.
He said he was not at the July 8 inspection or the July 13 meeting of diocesan and town officials. But on July 9 the fire chief showed him many of the problems, church valuables were removed and condemned signs and signs with Xs were attached to the building, he said.
He said the original church, built in 1893, had not been inspected in some time. In the 1930s the church building was moved across the street and a sanctuary was added.
Throughout July, all Masses for St. Denis and St. Anne parishes will be held at St. Denis, 85 Main St., Father Hamm said. Weekday Masses will continue to be celebrated at 9 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Lord’s Day Masses will be celebrated at 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. Sundays. He said he is to meet with the parish council July 15 to re-evaluate the Mass schedule.
Father Hamm said he told parishioners at all the Masses last weekend everything he knew about the situation. They expected that St. Anne’s would close some day, for various reasons, he said.
They were very happy that St. Anne’s bells were used at the consecration, a practice not used at St. Denis, and that St. Anne’s Gospel book was used, he said.
“It was very well received that we had brought certain things over from St. Anne’s for the liturgy and we will continue to do that, to emphasize that we are one family,” he said. “We’ve been sharing religious education, youth ministry, etc., combining ministries of the two parishes, for quite awhile.”
Father Hamm said St. Anne’s previous pastor, Father John E. Horgan, reported last year that there were 35 to 40 families at St. Anne’s and about 600 at St. Denis.