Demolition Alert II: St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Waterville, Maine

Picture of Saint Francis De Sales Church in Waterville Maine

This Demolition Alert is being brought to you courtesy of the ongoing Demographic Winter which is enemy #1 to Northern New England’s towns and villages.  The Morning Sentinel is reporting today that the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Waterville, Maine will be closed and demolished in order to make room for–drum roll please–elderly housing.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

A 137-year-old Catholic church in a prominent city spot will be torn down and an elderly housing complex will go up in its place.

That proposal, concerning the St. Francis de Sales Church at 52 Elm St., has been made by Waterville-based Corpus Christi parish. An application for the elderly housing building is pending before the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city’s Planning Board . . .

Driving the building decisions are some unavoidable trends, according to Daniels. Citing a parish census that was conducted recently, Daniels said the area churches see about 2,300 families on a given weekend — a number that would have described those who attended a single church 20 years ago.

The census also showed that the parish population, much like the state of Maine’s, is aging. About 65 percent of the parish population is age 50 or older, while just 35 percent are younger than that.

Last year, the parish saw 194 funerals and 64 infant baptisms — representing a 3-to-1 ratio.

The soaring cost of heating fuel has also taken its toll. Last year the parish paid $2.40 a gallon, this year it was $3.40 a gallon and was recently projected to be higher. The church closures would save the parish more than $75,000 in heating expenses, Daniels said.

The severe winter also affected parishioners, dissuading some of the elderly from traveling to Mass. In general, offeratory donations are also down because people are financially strapped during a tough economy, Daniels said.

See here for interior pictures of the church.

Unfortunately, these types of stories will only become more and more common as the population in Northern New England continues to age.  Already, based on median age, Maine is the oldest state in the nation with Vermont at #2 and New Hampshire at #4.

As shown in the chart below, the number of children (under 18) has declined by 72,537 to 686,522 in 2009 from 759,059 in 2000–a 10 percent drop.  To put this into perspective, it would be as if the entire population of Aroostook county in Maine just disappeared (71,488 in 2009).

Additionally, the number of people of between 18 and 64 has also declined by 70,251 to 1,122,151 in 2009 from 1,192,402 in 2000–a 6 percent drop.  In contrast, the number of people over the age of 65 has increased by 64,670 to 474,775 in 2009 from 410,105–an increase of 16 percent.

Chart Showing Demographic Winter in Northern New EnglandThis inversion of the age pyramid will have severe economic consequences.  The most important, from our perspective, is that there simply won’t be enough people to buy up the current housing stock (assuming we don’t have a flood of in-migration).  Home prices will plummet and the number of vacant homes will soar.  And as most of you know, an empty house in our weather will soon be a demolished house.

In the short-term, we must encourage in-migration to shore up the population in Northern New England.  In the long-term, we need economic development to create more jobs that will encourage our young people to stay and start their own (hopefully large) families.

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