A space crunch at St. John the Evangelist has the Catholic church considering a major expansion that would take up much of the 1200 block of Kentucky Street.
Leaders of the church, 1234 Ky., have begun talking with parishioners about adding onto both the church building and the adjacent Catholic school.
“We just can’t gather together as a whole community,” said Father John Schmeidler. “We have to split into six different masses during the weekend to fit into the space that we have.”
Plans under consideration would allow the sanctuary of the 84-year-old church to expand its seating capacity from about 300 currently to about 950 people.
The project would involve building onto the south of the current church building, using an architectural style almost identical to the 1925 church building.
“The people love this church,” Schmeidler said. “We told the architect it needs to have this feel.”
The project also would involve expanding to the north of the current church to connect the church with the existing St. John’s school, which serves students pre-school through sixth grade. The southern addition could include a gymnasium, cafeteria and some additional classroom space.
The addition would make it easier for the school to eventually add seventh- and eighth-grade classes to the school, if Lawrence public schools decide to reconfigure junior highs in the district by moving ninth-graders to the high schools.
But the church hasn’t made any final decisions about the school or the expansion project.
“Nothing is official yet,” said Jane Ellen Liebert, director of development for the church. “We have a long way to go before we actually could launch this. We need to get input from parishioners.”
Schmeidler said the discussion with parishioners has begun and likely will continue through the spring. A formal pricetag for the project hasn’t yet been determined, but the church does own the property it needs to undertake the expansion.
Liebert said the church owns the entire east side of the 1200 block of Kentucky. The project as currently envisioned would occupy most of the east side of the block. The expansion likely would require removal of a house that currently houses the church offices. It also would remove a house that serves as a Catholic thrift store.
The project would require several approvals from Lawrence City Hall before it could proceed, and issues such as parking, design and stormwater would have to be reviewed by planners.
“We like being in the downtown area,” Schmeidler said. “We like the feel of it. We want to stay here, but we’re pretty confident it will take adding more buildings for us to do that. It is a great problem to have because it means we’re alive and vibrant.”