In June of 2019, Catholic Charities of Louisville announced plans to construct a new headquarters adjacent to its current offices on South Fourth Street. Nearly three years later, demolition has been cleared to begin as early as next week.
Catholic Charities is headquartered in the roughly 88-year-old former convent on Holy Name Church’s campus. Also on the site facing Fourth Street are the old gym and school building, deemed unsafe by a structural engineer. The headquarters will be built on the site of the former gym, which occupies the corner at South Fourth and Heywood.
It’s important that the agency’s staff and clients feel safe in the space, said Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, Catholic Charities CEO. But with a leaking roof, an unreliable elevator (which left a disabled client trapped in the building at one point), a lack of hot water and finicky breakers, it’s hard to achieve a sense of safety, she said.
“That’s what the structural engineer report said about this building,” she said. “We’re not saying, ‘Get out now.’ But we are saying, ‘You never should have moved in in the first place. And serious structural repairs are warranted.’ ”
According to DeJaco Crutcher, when Catholic Charities moved into the convent in 1969, the building was predicted to be 35 years into its 50-year useful life.
“If you’re doing the math, we’ve now been here for 50 years, so that’s 35 years past the point that it was supposed to be used,” DeJaco Crutcher said. “And it was supposed to be used by little nuns living in it and not modern equipment like the copiers and everything plugged in. It was not set up for this.”
DeJaco Crutcher said her first meeting with the architect is a good indication of how badly the new building is needed.
“When I walked into the architect’s office the first time, I said, ‘I’m bringing you some specific requests. They want reliable electricity, hot water and HVAC.’ And the architect starts laughing. But sadly that really is the wish list. That’s what we’d like to have.”
The project will progress in phases, said DeJaco Crutcher. First, the gym and school building will be razed. Then construction will begin on the new headquarters as employees continue in the convent building.
The new building’s “footprint is a little bit different, but it’s mostly in the same place as the gym,” said DeJaco Crutcher.
When the new building is complete, nearly 95 percent of Catholic Charities’ employees will move in.
Currently, several Catholic Charities programs operate at the St. Anthony campus on Market Street in west Louisville. The Migration and Refugee Services Program, Kentucky Office of Refugees, the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative (the anti-human trafficking program) and the finance department will move from the St. Anthony campus into the new building.
“It’s a great opportunity for our staff just to have everybody in one building that’s built to be an office building,” DeJaco Crutcher said. “It’s going to be so much better for our work, for the people that we serve, being able to serve people across our programs — it’s just going to be so much better.”
The nonprofit serves a variety of people in need, providing resources and legal services to migrant and refugee populations, impoverished people, victims of human trafficking, mothers facing unplanned pregnancies and families. Offices are intentionally located along bus routes to make services accessible to these clients.
The new building will include offices, conference rooms, classrooms, a large childcare space and room for the food pantry currently located in the parish’s rectory basement.
The project was originally slated to cost $7.5 million and was 71 percent funded when the pandemic and a lawsuit related to historic landmarks caused delays.
The delay has driven up costs, said Bill Zoeller, Archdiocese of Louisville director of facilities.
“The pandemic definitely has affected construction costs,” said Zoeller. “It’s affected construction costs across the board, not just for this project but everything we’ve undertaken in the last six to nine months, they’ve all been probably in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 percent higher.”
In a Jan. 7 interview, Zoeller said that the new demolition bid is 9.4 percent higher than it was in the spring of 2019. He would like to get demolition started as soon as possible.
“My target, personally, is that we mobilize and start taking those buildings down on the 17th of January,” Zoeller said. “And that’s aggressive. I don’t even know if we can mobilize that fast.”
In addition to offering an improved facility, the new building will enable Catholic Charities to operate more efficiently, Zoeller said.
DeJaco Crutcher said nonprofit entities raising money for new buildings are often looked down upon, but to continue doing the good work Catholic Charities does, it’s a must.
“We’re really excited about the new space,” DeJaco Crutcher said. “Catholic Charities is growing and we’re trying to do more in our community. This is a necessary step for that.”
She said as Catholic Charities and its programs expand, it’s essential that the staff has a place to do the work. The buildings they’re currently operating in “have been pushed beyond their capacity, we cannot possibly stretch them anymore.”
“It really is a matter of respecting the dignity of the people we serve and the people who work here, that we need a new working space,” she said. “But also because we are thinking big and we are thinking about how to do more in our community and we need to have room to grow.”