LACONIA — The city plans to buy the two pieces of property on either side of St. Joseph Church for $1.14 million from the Diocese of Manchester, but it has no bearing on the possible future demolition of the church, Mayor Andrew Hosmer says.
The agreement includes the John W. Busiel house and the former Holy Trinity School. The city and the diocese both said the primary goal of the purchase is to provide safe and convenient parking to the downtown district.
St. Andre Bessette Parish will keep ownership of the church, which it will maintain while the parish and the Diocese of Manchester work to find a suitable use for the nearly 100-year-old building, according to a statement by Rev. Marc Drouin that was mailed to parishioners over the weekend.
“I’m not quite sure what will stop the demolition of the church,” Hosmer said on Monday. “This (purchase) is distinctly different than the plans for St. Joseph’s Church.”
The Diocese of Manchester originally sought to demolish the church and has applied for a demolition permit. The Heritage Commission tabled it at its most recent meeting.
Homser said the discussion going forward is how to put the two buildings that could be owned by the city to their highest, best purpose but that the resale of one or both of them to recoup the city’s investment is a big part of that discussion. The total assessed value of the two parcels is $2,030,000, according to the city’s assessment website.
The diocese subdivided the campus into three separate parcels in September 2019, said a representative of the Laconia Planning Department.
City Manager Scott Myers said the bulk of the available parking was included in the two parcels the city plans to buy while the church itself has only enough land around it for easements and setbacks. Access via the three existing driveways and parking will be available for all three parcels, Myers said.
The John W. Busiel House, now used as a rectory, and the former Holy Trinity School building will become the property of the city of Laconia.
Over the past two years, St. Andre Bessette Parish has consolidated its operations on the Sacred Heart Campus property, which is now home to a newly renovated church, parish offices and the Holy Trinity School. The $1.14 million the parish hopes to garner from the sale of the Busiel House and the school will pay for those upgrades and consolidation costs, Drouin said in his letter to parishioners.
The parish has established a fund for the upkeep and maintenance of St. Joseph’s Church, said Drouin, who estimated the annual costs of operations to be $37,000 while improvements and upgrades would cost $440,000. The church property is assessed by the city of Laconia for $857,600, according to the city’s online assessing website.
The Busiel House is on the National Register of Historic Places as managed by the U.S. National Parks Service. Records said it was built in 1865 by noted area architect A.L. Davis in the French Second Empire style. It was sold by Busiel’s widow to the Bishop of Manchester in 1904 and put to use as a rectory sometime in late 1929, when St. Joseph’s Church was completed.
The Busiel House and St. Joseph’s Church are in an historical overlay district created by the city largely in response to the public outcry over the then-planned demolition of the church.
Tara Shore, who helped spearhead the public response to the proposed destruction of the church and who is now a candidate for the Historic District Commission, said she would like to see both properties put to some historical, artistic and/or cultural use that would be beneficial to the entire city.
She said that while she believes there are other entities, other than the Laconia Historical and Museum Society, that have some interest in the properties, especially in the Busiel House, she hopes the city sticks with its statement that the proposed purchase is for the cultural and artistic community’s benefit.
“(The Busiel House) is just a very important building in this city,” Shore said.
Both Myers and Drouin said the sale is expected to be completed later this year.