ITHACA, N.Y. — Staying in Ithaca town for the time being, the town’s planning board has but one project on their agenda for next Tuesday – a new parish center for St. Catherine of Siena Church in the Northeast Ithaca neighborhood.

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Yes, even in Ithaca, one of the least religious metros in the country, famously home to a school that pastors derided in fiery philippics 150 years ago for daring to not affiliate itself with a Christian denomination or enforce mandatory church attendance, churches can hold their own.


Plans call for a new 10,811 SF parish center at 302 St. Catherine Circle, on what is currently part of the church parking lot. Once built, the current parish center, a one-story, 10,275 SF jumble of boxes and corridors, would be demolished and replaced with parking spaces.

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“The new building of 10,811 sf is conceived to replace the existing building with a durable structure, which is efficiently laid out for the Parish’s long-term purposes and is sited so as to be a gateway to the Church,” planning board documents state.

“It is hoped that the siting will draw more of the congregation into fuller participation in Parish events and into assistance in realizing the Parish’s missions.”

“The organization of the building is meant to be immediately and intuitively apparent to all visitors, by virtue of the simplicity of the layout and by the transparency of the partitions.”

Richard McElhiney Architects of NYC is the project architect, and a bit of a surprise choice since the firm doesn’t have a presence or previous work up here.

In an assessment by Ithaca town planner Christine Balestra, concerns were noted about a phased parking plan for the church while construction is underway, and minor requests for landscaping details (plans call for two fountains). Other than that, it doesn’t look like this is going to make any waves during the approvals process.

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Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at