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Christ the King Parish only bidder on Rumford School

Christ the King Parish yesterday offered $600,000, cash, for the former Rumford School on Thorndike Street, a move it called a “win-win” for the Catholic church and the entire community.

It was the only organization to offer to buy the 1.3-acre property after CATCH Neighborhood Housing, which had previously expressed an interest in converting the property into affordable housing, bowed out.

The Concord School District put the school and several others up for sale after it opened three new elementary schools this year.

Rosemary Heard, president of CATCH, said it wouldn’t be in the city’s best interests if two nonprofits were pitted against one another.

“The highest and best use of a school to me is a school,” Heard said. “We wish the parish well in this endeavor.”

The Rev. Richard Roberge, the pastor of the parish, said he’s happy to be the only bidder.

“If we (don’t) get the school, we’d have to look at another plan,” he said.

Roberge hand-delivered the sealed envelop containing the offer to the district’s headquarters yesterday afternoon.

If the parish buys the school, it will relocate St. John Regional School, now on South Main Street, to Thorndike Street. The parish will then consolidate its operations at St. John the Evangelist.

The other two churches that make up the parish – St. Peter on North State Street and Sacred Heart Church on Pleasant Street – will eventually be sold. Christ the King Parish, which has about 9,000 parishioners, 1,400 who attend weekly Mass, formed last year by merging the three parishes into one.

St. John Regional School has been in Concord for 125 years, Roberge wrote in his letter, and more than 3,000 students have graduated from Catholic schools in the area, including the schools at St. Peter and Sacred Heart, which have closed in the past few decades.

The school needs to expand, its officials have said. About 230 students from preschool through eighth grade attend St. John Regional School now, including 125 from Concord. Middle school classrooms are in the church’s Barry Hall, an old convent, and are too small, officials said.

By 2015, officials would like to build a gymnasium and parish center on the campus of St. John the Evangelist Church, done on a “pay-as-you-go basis,” funded by the sale of Sacred Heart and St. Peter’s churches and a capital campaign. St. John the Evangelist Church is likely to expand from 500 seats to 600.

This work is likely to reposition the parish, which runs a $35,000 monthly deficit, to be stronger in the future, officials said.

Having a thriving school, Roberge said, is critical to the church’s mission of evangelization.

In a letter to Superintendent Chris Rath and the school board, Roberge said the parish would like to start using the building for both parish and school activities by mid-January 2013.

The property would be in full-time use as a school by the summer of 2014, he said.

The building would be renovated in two stages, Roberge said. The first, which would be completed before students use it full-time, would include an overhaul of the electrical systems and an improvement to the building’s handicap accessibility.

A second stage of renovations would occur once the students are present, he said. The parish would need to raise money for those improvements.

The school board will formally receive the proposal Monday night. The capital facilities committee will then review the plan and later interview representatives of the parish. A public meeting for neighbors to weigh in on their ideas will also need to be held before the full school board votes on the proposal.

In its proposal, the parish said the offer is valid until the close of business Nov. 21, 2013, but would like to close by Jan. 15. It requests permission to conduct a final inspection of the property within three weeks.

The execution of the final purchase and sale agreement would be subject to the approval of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester, Peter Libasci, the offer said. There will be no real estate brokers involved in the deal, according to the proposal.

The offer came as the district is weighing what to do with its other closed elementary schools. Conversations continue with city officials regarding the transfer of Dame School for a city community center, and plans for Eastman School stalled after neighborhood residents decried plans to sell the site to a company that runs assisted living facilities. The board is also weighing proposals for the Walker School from Seacoast businessman Bill Binnie, who would like to locate the WBIN radio and television group there, and Concord Group Insurance Co., which would like to move its headquarters to the property. Those negotiations are ongoing.

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or mconnors@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MAKConnors )

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