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Work starts on 'Beacon of Hope'

Workers on a lift, left,are removing the limestone features and woodwork from the old brick convent at St. Gabriel Catholic Church Wednesday morning. The building will be demolished as part of the planned modernizationofSt. Gabriel School,which will include a new playground, gym, cafeteria, classrooms and a community center connecting the school and the church. A limestone plaque over the second-floor door indicates the convent was constructed in 1869.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

Stone trim and woodwork is being removed from its 150-year-old convent as St. Gabriel Catholic Church begins major renovation and modernization of the school.

Workers from Fortune Companies, Kokomo, began work at the former nuns residence at 9th Street and Grand Avenue on Monday, according to Dave Steinard, maintenance director for St. Gabriel parish. The workers are removing decorative limestone trim from the outside of the brick building and the woodwork from inside. Fortune Companies will salvage it for reuse in other structures.

The work is the beginning of a three-phase series of building projects that the church is calling Beacon of Hope. It’s been talked about for about 10 years, Steinard said, with serious planning starting about three years ago. Church members were surveyed about options before a plan was developed. Earlier this year, the church conducted a capital campaign to raise $2.7 million needed for the work.

“It’s starting to become a reality,” Steinard said. “It’s going to be a very attractive campus.”

The first phase involves demolition of the convent. A contractor for demolition has not been selected, Steinard said on Wednesday. He noted that the building was constructed as a residence and is not suitable for use as  a school. After nuns stopped living there, the building had housed the Hope Center for several years and then was made available for emergency housing.

The St. Gabriel school playground will be moved to the corner after the convent is gone. A gymnasium and cafeteria will be constructed on the former playground, on the north side of the school.

Phase 2 includes the demolishing the brown-brick 1926 school building that faces 9th Street and constructing three classrooms on the west side of the present school.

The third phase will be construction of a fellowship area linking the school to the east side of the church building. A community room with kitchen will face 9th Street, with a park area behind it. The existing church building will remain.

The project will proceed as funds are available, parish officials had said in April.

“We’re hoping to make a better place for the whole town,” Steinard said.