Jun 23, 2016

Tucson's Historic Cathedral Square to See Major Renovations

Historic Photo of Marist College, provided by the Diocese of Tucson

One of the oldest and most architecturally significant city squares in downtown Tucson is on the verge of an unprecedented transformation.

What is known as Cathedral Square at 192 S. Stone Avenue contains the Cathedral of Saint Augustine, which was built just after the Civil War and is the spiritual home to the geographically vast Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

But it is the other structures at that site that will be the subject of an ambitious $40 to $45 million restoration project.

“The project involves different methods of renovating and restoring three of the four buildings on the square,” says Steff Koeneman, the director of communications for the diocese.

The renovation will see the transformation of the more than century-old Marist College, a multi-story adobe building that once served as a boy’s school.

That structure will be completely restored and converted into a community center and affordable housing for seniors.


Current Marist College building, photo provided by Diocese of Tucson

“It’s a building that is greatly in need of restoration,” says John Shaheen, the director of property and insurance for the diocese, noting that two parts of the structure collapsed during a rain storm in 2005.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building has also been weighed down by a 1960s concrete stucco plaster facelift that ended up holding moisture inside the building, further contributing to its decline.

Now plans calls for the old Marist College to house eight apartment units, a transformation that will cost at least $22 million.

“We have had a kind of urban renewal in the downtown area here, which means property values have gone up,” explains Koeneman.

That change in the residential market, in turn, has led to a demand for more senior living units.

The Marist College renovation is being funded by the Phoenix-based Foundation for Senior Living, which is also taking on the construction of a 7-story building that will feature an additional 75 new apartments.

Architectural rendering of new Marist College building, photo provided by the Diocese of Tucson

The two structures, combined, will be known as The Marist at Cathedral Square.

Work, meanwhile, has already started on the restoration of Our Lady’s Chapel, next to the Marist College, which is seeing the installation of an improved plumbing system, as well as new heating and cooling ducts.

Pre-renovation of Our Lady's Chapel, photo provided by the Diocese of Tucson

“I would like the chapel to be a place where people downtown or in the area can stop in to get away from the hectic pace of their lives, and away from the din of their work, to find a place of quiet, peace, and reflection,” Tucson Diocese Bishop Gerald Kicanas remarked earlier this year.

Archdiocese officials say they expect the work on the chapel to be completed by late this summer or early fall.

Rendering of post-renovation of Our Lady's Chapel, photo provided by the Diocese of Tucson

Work is also underway on the St. Augustine Rectory, which was built in the late 1890s and features a Spanish Revival style. Repairs to the building’s walls, porch, and roof, as well as plumbing and electrical system upgrades, are in progress.

The final piece of the Cathedral Square renovation is the demolition of the Parish Hall, a project that has recently won the approval of the Tucson City Council.

“The Parish Hall was built for a parish community of about three hundred people, but it really cannot sit more than two hundred,” says Koeneman.

“It has been kept up through the years, but not very well,” she adds.

Council members, in order to approve the Parish Hall’s demolition, had to officially agree that there was no reasonable economic use left for the structure.

In its place will be a four-story building that will be used as offices for St. Augustine Parish as well as the Archdiocese. The new building will also include offices and meeting space.

“What we have lacked is a gathering places for large ministries, youth ministries, conferences, convocations, that sort of thing,” says Koeneman.

“The Bishop thought this would be a good time to not only build new offices for St.Augustine, but also to create a much more usable center for the diocese as a whole.”

That new structure, to be called the Diocesan Complex, is expected to cost about $12 million to build.

Although extensive renovations to the cathedral itself were completed in 2011 after a two-year process and a cost of more than $1 million, Shaheen says the current all-encompassing Cathedral Square projects are, combined, the largest in recent diocese history.

Architectural rendering of finished Square, provided by the Diocese of Tucson

“This is really a major effort for us,” he says. “We have built churches in the not-distant past, and those were in the $7 million to $8 million range. But what we’re doing right now is really unprecendented.”


By Garry Boulard

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