Spokesperson Joe Zwilling said the Catholic Archdiocese is sorry to lose St. Brigid’s but insisted it had to come down. Demolition began early today (see slideshow here). “It’s a hazard. It could have literally fallen over at any point in time,” Zwilling said in a phone call to the Voice.
Contrary to the scuttlebutt on the street, Zwilling says the Avenue B property–which overlooks Tompkins Square Park–is not going to be sold off for swanky condos or another towering NYU dorm (like the one going up in back of the sheared facade of St. Ann’s church on East 12th Street.)
“The property is not on the market and we have no interest in selling it,” Zwilling insisted. “It will be used for some other form of ministry, whether for educational or charitable or healthcare purposes, possibly senior housing.”
Zwilling confirmed the Archdiocese had been discussing leasing the space to Cabrini Medical Center for a five-story nursing home for seniors to replace the one Cabrini runs on East 5th Street, whose lease expires in a few years. However, “there’s no agreement or resolution or contract yet,” Zwilling said.
Another possibility is a school or educational facility, Zwilling said.
“Five years ago they noticed the back wall of St. Brigid’s was literally pulling away from the building,” he explained, referring to a big crack running the length of the north wall. “It was first noticed in the 1980s and attempts were made to repair it with buttressing, but conditions just worsened, so Cardinal Egan and representatives of St. Brigid’s including Pastor Michael Conway, agreed it needed to come down.”
“The damage wasn’t just on the outside,” Zwilling continued. “When you went inside, you could see the floor joists separated several inches from the back wall.”
Zwilling said an engineering firm hired by the archdiocese assessed the cost to repair it at $7 million—a far cry from the $275,000 bid that parishioners fighting to preserve the church say they received from a contractor.
“It wasn’t just the cost but the fact that no one could guarantee that the damage wouldn’t just continue,” Zwilling maintains. That, combined with there being numerous other Catholic churches in the area, led the Archdiocese to conclude St. Brigid’s was not worth saving.
Angry parishioners continue to challenge whether the Archdiocese had the right to make that call, and on Thursday, an attorney for the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church was in court pleading for a restraining order to stop the destruction. But Zwilling said the decision to demolish was unanimously reaffirmed at a July 18 meeting of the parish’s board of trustees—which includes two former parishioners of St. Brigid’s.
Local politicians and activists scheduled a press conference at 3 p.m. to denounce the demolition.