Our Lady of Belen breaks ground for new parish hall

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Behind a large white sign erected west of St. Mary’s Catholic School, a brisk wind picked up the dirt moved around by gold shovels.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: After 14 years of set backs, Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church broke ground at the future site of a new parish hall. Community members and St. Mary’s School students attended the ground-breaking ceremony Monday. Pictured, from left, is Our Lady of Belen Pastor Father Stephen Schultz, the project’s superintendent Dana Neice, Gerald Martin Construction’s CEO Victoria Martin, St. Mary’s Student Body President Rose Baca, Mullen-Heller Architecture’s Michele Mullen, St. Mary’s Principal Melodie Good, building committee member David Sanchez and Belen Mayor Rudy Jaramillo.

Community members and St. Mary’s students stood silently with smiles on their faces during Monday’s ground breaking ceremony for Our Lady of Belen’s new parish hall.

“In about nine months, the parish hall will be where we are standing today,” Father Stephen Schultz told the crowd.

The $2.5 million parish hall, containing a gymnasium, cafeteria and banquet hall, is expected to be completed by August 2013.

The crowd erupted into applause as they gathered around the floor plan, site plan and conceptual drawing of the building.

“We are just so excited and appreciative. You can’t imagine how nice it will be to have a gym that we don’t have to borrow or rent,” said St. Mary’s Principal Melodie Good.

The ground-breaking ceremony marks 14 years worth of fundraising, planning and designing. The hall will face south and span 17,300 square feet.

The parish hall is designed to serve three functions, which are to be a regulation-size gymnasium, a commercial kitchen and cafeteria and a banquet hall, which will seat 300 people.

About 14 years ago, a building committee set in motion plans for the parish hall, but those efforts were side tracked when the former convent was renovated to include religious educational classes for the community.

“It was very much needed, but it delayed the project of the parish hall,” Schultz said.

The project was further delayed when Schultz arrived at the church as its pastor after Father David Gallegos was transferred to Santa Barbara, Calif.

Although the parish hall project had stalled, funds were being raised for the project through tithing from the church’s congregation. After seven years of saving enough funds for design, construction and equipping of the building, the project lifted off the ground once again.

“From here, there will be week-to-week progress made,” Schultz said.

The new building will have amenities that aren’t a part of the present parish hall.

Inside of the gymnasium, about 240 spectators will be able to watch sports games from the bleachers and keep track of the score on an electrical scoreboard. After games or practices, students can clean up in nearby locker rooms.

Students can eat their lunch on a covered patio next to the school’s cafeteria.

Meals can be prepared in the building’s kitchen or warmed up and served on a large buffet island with built-in outlets for crock pots and roasters.

A permanent stage will be set up in the gymnasium and a mini, portable stage will be set up in the banquet hall.

“So much planning went into this,” Schultz said.

During the school year, the present parish hall isn’t accessible to the public, since it is utilized for school events, physical education classes and sports practices throughout the day.

This inaccessibility limits community members usage of the building to evenings and weekends, and sends families who had a funeral service at the church around town for funeral receptions before returning to the church’s ceremony for the burial.

“We couldn’t provide that space, but with the (new) parish hall, we can have three events going on simultaneously,” Schultz said.

“It’s very important to us to have the building fulfill a need for the community.”

Although it wasn’t their intention, the building will also have environmentally friendly aspects to it, Schultz said.

Large windows on top of the gymnasium will cast light into the playing area, and may, at times, be the only light needed.

The kitchen will contain a dishwasher that requires no chemicals to clean and sterilize cooking and eating utensils.

The building will be divided into three zones to direct heating and cooling into the area being used instead of the entire building.

Although Schultz isn’t sure of the present parish hall’s future use, he did ensure that the church has no plans of knocking it down.

“That building is important to a lot of people, and there is still a lot of good use in it,” Schultz said.

The church does, however, plan on updating the building’s bathrooms to be handicap accessible and re-laying the building’s uneven floor.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.