The iconic cathedral in the Alphabet District has big plans to renovate its community hall

One of the buildings at Saint Mary's Cathedral is due for a major renovation.

The iconic cathedral is the central church of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, and recently launched its capital fundraising campaign for the Cathedral Project, which will update the core community center building.

The estimated $15 million project follows seismic and accessability upgrades to the cathedral school, completed by R&H Construction. R&H holds the contract to the Cathedral Project as well, along with Hacker Architects, who led the 1990s restoration of the actual cathedral. Place Studio is the landscape architect.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JULES ROGERS - Cathedral pastor Monsignor Patrick Brennan outside of the hall.

The cathedral represents 431,267 Oregonians as the central seat to the archibishop, which is 12 percent of the region's population.

The vision for the renovation comes from the anticipated 100-year anniversary of the cathedral's dedication (1926) as a way to serve the community for the next 100 years.

Cathedral pastor Monsignor Patrick Brennan showed the Business Tribune around campus last week. The rectory, where the parish offices are, is a maze of hallways with layers of renovations and stairways that are off-kilter with the elevation outdoors. The current community hall is a small room with basement-style windows and might be partly below grade.

"The cathedral is a beautiful, large church that was completely renovated in 1996, but the project was really unfinished because we did not and do not have a large hall in order for people and all of our Catholics to congregate at the mother church," Brennan said. "It's been a hope of the parish for many years, and circumstances have come together in a way that that building now is free and open and ready for some kind of development."

In total, the budget is more than $15 million and they are planning to phase the work. It's all through fundraising, which began last spring.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JULES ROGERS - Cathedral pastor Monsignor Patrick Brennan shows where the levels inside the building don't match up with street elevation, one complication in the plans (directly inside the door is a split staircase).

"We've raised $3.5 million thus far and we're just at this juncture ready to move beyond our parish into the broader archdiocese," Brennan said. "It's everybody's church and we're hoping for contributions from people who are connected to the cathedral — maybe they lived here, married here, had a family member buried here, or were baptized — there are lots of people connected with the cathedral, and we'll also look to foundations and trusts."

The new hall

The building was used for other purposes over the years: in 1986, an archbishop lived there.

"He has moved and that has allowed us to work on a major renovation for the entire building, which would include a large hall," Brennan said. "The parish has been talking about it for a long time. I've been here six years, we have finally come to the point where we can start thinking practically and get the plans going."SUBMITTED: ST. MARYS CATHEDRAL, COURTESY HACKER ARCHITECTS - The renderings show an updated community hall where parishoners can celebrate after sacraments, and a welcome center with reading material for community members who wander in.

The refurbished hall's plans accomodate 250 people for life events and religious sacrament celebrations.

"One of my beliefs about architecture is space affects you, architecture affects you, and they (Hacker) understand that very clearly," Brennan said. "We want a space that will encourage our community. The whole purpose of this building is to serve the community and we want a beautiful space, and I use that word underlining the word beauty because beauty is very important to Catholics."

Concept renderings for the project show a spacious hall with large windows, a redesigned courtyard that accommodates gatherings, a contemplative garden and accessible paths connecting the buildings.

The renovation plans create a kitchen and expand meeting spaces for choir rehearsals and education. The rectory and cathedral offices will be reconfigured into efficient living and working spaces.

"I want this building to move our minds and hearts and spirits so that we pull together as a people, and so there's a lot of little religious and philosophical ideas behind the design," Brenan said. "We're an important part of the City of Portland. We want to enhance the architectural environment, we want to enhance this neighborhood and the Northwest."

All the buildings will be brought up to current seismic and energy codes, along with being renovated for ADA accessbility. The courtyard will connect the hall and center to the public, in a welcoming way.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JULES ROGERS - The inside of the halls community center is currently quite small."All the things that the courtyard can be: a place of peace, prayer, quiet, meditation, busy people, community," Brennan said.

At street level, 18th Avenue is higher than 17th, and in between it's quite sloped. 17th Avenue is still a public right-of-way, but the City allows the Cathedral to block it off between the school and hall— but it has to remain open for emergency vehicles.

"We have the physical challenge of the building itself — which we're basically maintaining its looks on three levels — but none of the levels match either the street or the courtyard," Brennan said. "This is a challenge because the floor on which the hall will be is about five feet above the courtyard, and we want that extended into the courtyard with a large terrace to it can expand the actual space."

Part of the project will be remodeling the rectory — a later phase, because it's not a priority right now. A driving factor in the designs is the new welcoming center.

"It's a welcome center where people are invited, so the cathedral would be open but we would like people to come into this welcome center — there would be orientation, history of the Catholic church in Oregon, maybe a little kiosk with books, and a place to have coffee," Brennan said.

With the new, welcoming and visible spaces, the cathedral plans to expand and introduce programs to the wider community.

Construction is slated to start in early 2019, with completion by summer 2020.

By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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