The future of the former St. Barbara School, 8900 Windemere Ave. in Brookfield, appears to be in doubt after the building’s heating plant failed, forcing the parish to move both its religious education program and its emergency homeless shelter from the facility.
Rev. Denis Condon, pastor of the recently united St. Barbara and St. Louise de Marillac parishes, announced the news in the parish bulletin on Oct. 13. He did not respond to multiple phone messages left by the Landmark.
The building was constructed in 1951 and in the years following, enrollment would spike at more than 700 students. When St. Barbara School closed in 2012, its enrollment had dropped to less than 60 students.
The old school has continued to serve the parish as the site of its weekly religious education classes and twice a week during colder weather as an emergency shelter for BEDS Plus.
In recent years, maintenance issues have cropped up, Condon said, including a leaking roof that caused tiles to fall from the ceilings of rooms on the top floor of the old school. Most recently, the boiler that powers the building’s heating system failed.
“The boiler rusted,” Condon wrote in his message to parishioners. “Not bits of rust popping up here and there like brown spots on an aging body, but total collapse. An inspector was able to push his finger from the outside straight through into the center cavity.”
The base of the boiler had corroded so badly, Condon wrote, that the boiler itself was only being held upright by some straps.
“That last indignity has resulted in the evacuation of all people from the building,’ Condon wrote. “Without heat, with constant leaking it has become uninhabitable, a safety hazard.”
In his message to parishioners, Condon laid out a couple of future options for the building.
The property apparently has drawn the interest of a developer who has pitched a plan for buying the old school and converting it into several apartments. If the parish’s conversations with the developer, which Condon described as “ongoing,” move forward, the parish would have to spend about $4,700 to winterize the building so it doesn’t deteriorate any further.
A second option would be to demolish the building and sell the land. While the value of the land has been estimated at $500,000, demolishing the school would cost an estimated $350,000, according to Condon.
The gamble with the second option is that with the expense of demolishing the school, the parish could lose money on the deal.
“The archdiocese will not help us with this option since, if they do it for us, they will have to do it for all the parishes and they haven’t got the money for that,” Condon wrote.
Village officials say they have not inspected the building, nor have they had any developer approach them about a possible residential conversion project.
In the meantime, the parish plans to move its religious education programs — which requires seven classrooms — to the old parish center at 4015 Prairie Ave. If that plan isn’t workable, the program may be moved to the St. Louise de Marillac School building in LaGrange Park.
The BEDS Plus emergency shelter, according to the organization’s executive director, Tina Rounds, has also been moved to the parish center.
“We are grateful for the space and partnership with St. Barbara,” Rounds said in an email.