Fishtown Church Shut Suddenly Over Collapse Fears, Some Question Decision

A 125-year-old Philadelphia Catholic church was suddenly closed over fears it may collapse, but not everyone thinks safety is the driving force behind the closure.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced on Friday that Saint Laurentius Church, built in 1889, at Memphis and E. Berks Streets in the Fishtown section of the city needed to close immediately because it was in imminent danger of collapse.

Spokesman Ken Gavin said inspections by independent engineers found a number of issues with brownstone masonry on the church’s façade including large cracks and deteriorated faces. Scaffolding and netting was installed around the base of the building to protect pedestrians and parishioners, but officials say a follow up inspection found the situation had gotten much worse.

“As a result of a follow up inspection conducted this week, structural engineers have noted that the condition of the building has greatly deteriorated because of the weather this winter and is in imminent danger of a collapse,” Gavin said in a statement.

But members of the 130 member congregation say they don’t believe the archdiocese, because officials told them at a meeting on Wednesday that the house of worship was structurally sound.

“At no point in that meeting was the church deemed in imminent danger of collapse,” parishioner Susan Phillips said. “As a matter of fact, it was asked several times, ‘Is the church in imminent danger of collapsing?’ And we were told ‘No.’”

Phillips and others believe the archdiocese is closing the church under false pretenses as a way to shut down the parish’s school, which utilizes the church’s facilities, and sell the property. The neighborhood has experienced a development boom in recent years.

“I immediately thought ‘What a bunch of liars,’” said parent A.J. Thompson.

Gavin dismissed the parent’s claims saying the safety concerns were clearly explained at Wednesday’s meeting and that there were no immediate plans to close the school. Parents said the school was on a closure list in the past, but had been saved by their efforts.

Not all are against the precautions closing, however. Patrick Drogalis, who lives nearby, says it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“You see a lot of situations where they wait a little bit too long and then there’s some kind of accident. So, I think it’s probably a good thing to make sure that no one is in imminent danger,” he said.

As for the future of the church, officials say they have yet to determine what to do about the building. Should the building be demolished, any proceeds from a land sale would go to the parish, Gavin said.

The archdiocese said masses will be held at Holy Name of Jesus Church at 701 E. Gaul Street.

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