PORTLAND – Razed two years ago after a partial roof collapse exposed a fatal structural flaw, the stone sanctuary of the St. Lawrence Church may rise again at the top of Munjoy Hill.

The Friends of St. Lawrence Church have quietly begun to raise money to rebuild the sanctuary.

The campaign began last week, after the City Council approved a contract zone that essentially allows the group to build a replica of the iconic building on the site where the old building stood — now an empty lot at the corner of Congress and Munjoy streets.

An architectural firm that specializes in historic preservation has developed a detailed plan for the new building, which would have the same exterior materials — pink granite and gray-brown stone — and a soaring bell tower.

The modern and energy-efficient interior would hold a 400-seat auditorium designed primarily for musical performances.

The sanctuary and the next-door Parish Hall were built in 1897. The Parish Hall, which holds a 110-seat theater, was restored in 2001.

Efforts to restore the sanctuary were halted in 2006, when its primary roof trusses partially collapsed, damaging portions of the roof and masonry walls.

Engineers determined that the building posed a safety risk. In 2008, crews dismantled and demolished the structure.

In the new design, Mills Whitaker Architects of Bridgton has added structural support, to ensure that the sanctuary would survive for hundreds of years, said Deirdre Nice, executive director of the St. Lawrence Arts Center.

“rebuilding the sanctuary, we will be returning this iconic structure back to the community to enjoy for generations to come,” she said.

Nice said the group must raise $17 million to rebuild the sanctuary. That’s a daunting sum, but Nice said her group is confident that it can raise the money over the next few years from individual donations and grants.

The group, which successfully restored the Parish Hall, has earned a reputation for perseverance and success, said Deb Andrews, who oversees the city’s historic preservation program.

“I think of them as the little engine that could,” she said.

Andrews said the new building would be close in spirit and size to the old one, which had an “extraordinarily unique” design and served as a landmark at the crest of Munjoy Hill.

Moreover, the new building would fill the vacant lot, which has become a “sad voice” in the urban landscape, she said.

Jane’s Trust, created by Dow Jones heiress Jane Cook before her death in 2002, gave the group $250,000 to develop a design and detailed plans for the project.

Project manager Craig Whitaker said he’s impressed by the dedication of the Friends of St. Lawrence Church.

“They don’t have a lot of money,” he said, “but they are totally dedicated to the community.”

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]