BEVERLY — Parishioners of St. Barnabas Parish aren't expecting a resurgence in the population of Catholic nuns.
That much was evident on Tuesday night when an architect hired to develop a master plan for the church and school property asked families for ideas on future improvements.
Matthew Hichens, principal with Newman Architecture, divided the crowd into small groups and provided targeted questions about what parishioners saw as the needs of the Southwest Side parish.
Nearly every one of the groups cited the former convent at 10161 S. Longwood Drive in Beverly as ripe for redevelopment.
"With a lot of the parishes we deal with, a lot of them have these vacant convents," said Hichens, whose architecture firm has worked on several projects for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Suggestions for the property included renovating the convent to create a retreat center, a dedicated junior high school or a early education center for preschool and kindergarten families. Others suggested demolishing the building and replacing it with a new gymnasium or auditorium.
"Convents can be very difficult to remodel," Hichens said. "We want to make sure we make good decisions up front."
The groups also offered ideas for other improvements, including updating restrooms throughout the campus to make them handicap accessible. Adding wireless Internet to all buildings was also suggested.
Naperville-based Newman Architecture began working with St. Barnabas in October. The firm is in the process of fact finding and hopes to roll out its master plan this spring.
Although some suggested improvements to the sound system, parishioners seemed pleased with the church building. Built in 1968, St. Barnabas church at 10134 S. Longwood Drive seats about 900 people.
Speaking on behalf of the 1,600 families within the parish, the groups also seemed dedicated to preserving the green space behind the convent.
Some suggested using the area as a vegetable garden that could serve as both a fundraising and educational opportunity for the 540 students enrolled in the Catholic grade school, one group suggested.
Others said they liked the size and central location of the parish parking lot. But any future plans for the St. Barnabas property need to take into account traffic patterns, particularly during school pick-up and drop-off hours.
"It's a really important night for St. Barnabas," Hichens said. "We really need to dream big."
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