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Video seeks help in fixing Schenectady church

St. Anthony’s fire wasn’t ‘little’ one

Saturday, May 17, 2014
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A 2-alarm fire heavily damaged St. Anthony's Church at 331 Seward Place in Schenectady on March 7.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
A 2-alarm fire heavily damaged St. Anthony's Church at 331 Seward Place in Schenectady on March 7.

— Officials at St. Anthony’s Church — beginning renovations after a March fire heavily damaged the church interior — will ask parishioners for help this weekend.

A four-minute video will be shown after Saturday and Sunday services at St. John the Evangelist Church — where mem-

bers of St. Anthony’s have been attending Mass for the past 10 weeks. The Rev. Richard Carlino is pastor at both St. Anthony’s and St. John’s.

“The parishioners of St. Anthony’s have always come through when their church needed help, and the church needs their help now very desperately,” said Frank Ranucci, the church’s office manager and head of the St. Anthony’s Restoration Capital Campaign.

The goal is $250,000.

The video will include the history of the church, which was built in 1924, show the damage done and tell people how they can help. By next week, the video will be posted on the St. Anthony’s website and Facebook page.

During the early evening hours of March 7, a furnace malfunction in the basement started a blaze that caused about $1 million in damage. Ranucci, who is also heading the 10-person restoration committee, said insurance will cover those repairs.

“There are a lot of folks who have the impression that it was just a little fire,” said Ranucci, a former longtime Schenectady police officer. “In my experience in law enforcement and attending fire scenes, this is my first adventure in actually recovering from one. But there is no such thing as a little fire because fire does tremendous damage. You have smoke, you have soot, you have water. Those three things alone can take forever to clean up. The fire department did a great, great job in knocking down this fire and preventing it from being a worse catastrophe. Still, a lot of damage was done.”

The church’s pews, lighting fixtures and statues have been removed for cleaning. The church floor also has been removed.

Members of the restoration committee say money raised through the campaign will pay for other problems discovered during the cleanup and damage assessment.

Committee member Don Reisinger said the building foundation needs to be stabilized, there are drainage problems and other updates are necessary.

“It’s cheaper to do it now when everything’s opened up, rather than when we close it up,” Reisinger said. “It’s the most cost-effective time to do it.”

On the list: “We want to put in energy-efficient lighting,” Reisinger said. “We want to replace the heating and air conditioning system, make it energy efficient. We want to restore the grotto on the Seward Place side of the church and the La Pieta, the statue at the entrance. We want to make the main entrance handicapped accessible.”

Ranucci added some parishioners have wondered why it has taken “so long” for the church to reopen.

He said he’s showed some curious people the damage, and they can’t believe the extent.

Ranucci believes it’s important people know that St. Anthony’s is alive and active.

One way to do that, he said, is to continue daily Mass at the church — about 50 people attend an 8 a.m. service Monday through Saturday in the still-usable chapel.

“The second way is to let them know our Festa will be happening,” Ranucci said, adding the huge street party featuring entertainment and Italian food will be held June 20-22.

Festa operations will need the church hall — for cooking and storage — and Ranucci said new wallboard will be installed in the hall starting Monday.

The room won’t be completely renovated by mid-June, but Ranucci said it will meet building code and allow church personnel to work on Festa chores.

While parishioners are expected to help, Reisinger said the church hopes people outside St. Anthony’s will also pitch in.

“Everyone from corporate donors to people in the community to our own parishioners,” he said.

St. Anthony’s has friends and former communicants in far-away places.

“I’ve had calls from Texas, people in Florida who have heard about the fire,” Ranucci said. “A woman called me the other day from Syracuse, another one from Buffalo about two weeks ago who said, ‘I just heard about the fire, I want to be able to help. What can I do?’ The church has really served the community well, and I think those people are out there who want to give. They’re just waiting for us to tell them how.”

Ranucci stressed the renovated church will not be a remodeled church.

“We’re trying to preserve the church as it was,” he said. “We’re going to preserve the original beauty of the church.”

The renovated St. Anthony’s is expected to open by fall — and continue to serve the community for many years.

“This work will allow us to preserve the church for the next generation to come. It will be our gift to the next generation,” Ranucci said. “We can hand off a church that’s been completely updated and in good shape, not only structurally but financially.”

 
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