There’s a new proposal for the old Gate of Heaven School in South Boston: Turn it into a parking lot.
After more than five years of neighborhood debate about the fate of the shuttered Catholic school on 4th Street, the Gate of Heaven parish and Archdiocese of Boston have decided to knock down the nearly century-old building and use the space for parking.
It wasn’t their first choice. Over several years, the church had deals with multiple developers who wanted to convert the three-story brick building into condominiums or apartments. But after those plans died amid opposition from neighbors, demolition became the wisest choice financially, said the Rev. Robert Casey, Gate of Heaven’s pastor.
“Our primary goal with this was always to preserve the [adjacent] church itself, which is very historically important to the neighborhood,” said Casey, who announced the plan to parishioners at Masses over the weekend. “Because of its size and beauty, it takes a lot to keep it up.”
By tearing down the neighboring school building, which the archdiocese closed in 2009, the parish will be able to add about 40 parking spaces. In addition to providing parking for church events, the spaces will be rented out to neighborhood residents, providing a steady cash flow to help with Gate of Heaven’s upkeep, Casey said.
The parish explored other alternatives to condo development, such as senior housing, but decided such a project could ultimately lose money for the church.
“Elderly housing is something we looked at seriously, but it brought financial risk in years to come,” Casey said.
The condo plan had sparked fierce opposition — from a lawsuit, as well as from residents who launched a group called Kids Not Condos and lobbied for the building to be reused as a school or some other community amenity. Parking and traffic also were concerns. The church currently rents out about 50 spaces for overnight parking, and many of those would have been set aside for the condo project.
In an e-mail to neighborhood residents, Kevin Lally, leader of the Gate of Heaven Neighborhood Association, which sued to block the condo project, said demolition was “not my first choice.”
“But when I first got involved in this it was to make sure that the parish had the funds to keep the church that we all love open for generations to come,” he wrote. “With this additional revenue I feel that someday my son, and if I’m around long enough a grandchild or two, will be baptized in the Gate of Heaven Church.”
The demolition has been approved by the archdiocese and is planned to take place this spring or early summer. Gate of Heaven will need city permission to knock down the building because it is more than 50 years old, but it has no special historic protections or landmark status, Casey said.