Building Project Update from Fr. Fisher

Winter 2019

In 2014, St. Ambrose parish, in cooperation with the Diocese of Arlington, established a master plan for the development of our parish property and facilities. This plan was presented to the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) and finally approved in 2017. This plan was to be completed in several stages. We are happy to report that “Phase One” was finished in October (2019), and we now set our eyes on the start of “Phase Two” in 2020.   

“Phase One” was the execution of several parts of the master plan, that were identified as prerequisite to the start of “Phase Two”.  “Phase One” consisted of three steps:

In October 2018, the priests moved to a new rectory off campus (a residential home located on Woodburn Road). This move allowed for the demolition of the old rectory, and thus provided new access to the woods and property around the school to expand the parking lot.

General contractors were selected to remove trees and stumps, add fill dirt to level up the land, install an approved rain water management system, install the new parking lot including lighting and landscaping.

Under the direction of VDOT, modifications were made on the exit lanes onto Woodburn Road.

“Phase One” concluded in early October when the parking lot was inspected, approved, and then opened for parish and school use. This was all necessary and required by Fairfax County for any future steps in our master plan. 

“Phase Two” of our parish master plan is the demolition of the current church and the construction of a new church.  It is estimated that the process of demolition and construction will take one year. During that time when the parish is without a “church”, Sunday Mass will be in the school’s gym (the original parish church from 1968-1977) and daily Mass will be in the parish hall. In addition, as announced at parish meetings and information sessions, many parts of the current church will be incorporated into the new church (i.e., stain glass windows, the organ, and the Stations of the Cross, etc.). 

Over this past year St. Ambrose parish has continued to work with the Diocese of Arlington’s Construction Office and architects to ensure that our new church is a sacred space that is traditional in its design (long main aisle, high altar, large stain glass windows, choir loft). However, it will also be durable, and will include many necessary modern updates (large family size bathrooms, pews designed for wheelchairs and people with special needs, multiple entrances, brighter lighting, modern HVAC system, and more handicapped parking close to the church doors). These qualities will be included, while maintaining a very intimate feeling in the church.  The architects submitted a final church design to our parish. However, the cost and size raised concerns to our parish leadership and diocese.

St. Ambrose parish is aware that the new church must be paid for without interrupting the daily operations of the parish and school. At this time, we are able to meet our annual budget, but do not have the ability to put money in savings. Therefore an emphasis must be made to raise money now to reduce the loan amount needed from the diocese. It is our hope to establish a clear strategy of fundraising within the parish, while also seeking outside support where available.

Earlier this fall, the diocesan construction office held a series of meetings with our parish leadership to look at options to help move the new church project forward. We are mindful of not only the need for a new church, but that our current church has several large issues that would require expensive repairs such as a new roof, boilers, air conditioning systems, lighting, bathrooms, etc. We all agree that we would rather spend money on a new church then put money into a church that is outdated and not well suited for our future needs.      

The diocese and architects have come up with a few strategies to assist us in moving our project forward. First, we will use pre-engineered steel that will serve as the skeleton of the new church. The size and scope of the church will not change; however this will yield great savings. Further this steel will not be visible once the church is open. These cost saving steps have been used by other newly opened churches in our diocese with great effectiveness. Second, the church will be built with options to add on; so that as money comes in, additional projects can be added on.  Sadly, over the past years as we have been designing a church, the cost of steel and other construction costs have increased in price. By reducing the cost of the church, we can move the start of the project forward.

Do we have enough money to start the new church? The diocese has also been working with us to look at a strategy to cover the remaining cost of the new church. Our first capital campaign yielded $3.8 million in pledges.  Our second capital campaign yielded $1.8 million in pledges.  Total collected to date is $5.2 million with $400,000 in outstanding pledges.   We have spent $1.4M on architectural, engineering, permitting and legal fees and $1.8 million on completing the parking lot.  This leaves our parish building fund with $2.0 million in savings. The new church is estimated to cost $7.2 million. Thus, St.  Ambrose parish will need $5.2 million to complete our project.

After consulting the parish finance committee and parish council, we have a financial strategy to secure a $3 million loan from the diocese of Arlington and then have 10 years to repay that mortgage. We want to organize a special smaller campaign in the New Year to help us reduce the amount of the loan and show the diocese that our parish is capable of paying off its debt. 

What is the proposed schedule for the new church? The best case scenario is that if we are able to raise $2 million in pledges by the spring of 2020, we can plan the demolition of the church in the fall of 2020, and the new church would be projected to open in the fall of 2021. If we are not able to raise those pledges, then it will be delayed until a time when we have the pledges. 

In the next few weeks, the diocese, parish leaders, contractors, and architects will study the proposed design of the new church.  Our goal is to obtain final approval of the design and to show that it fits within the budget approved by the diocese.

We are excited about these recent developments with the diocese and realize that there will be more information to share in the near future.  As we move forward, it is my plan to provide regular updates through the bulletin, parish website, and at town hall meetings.  It is also my hope that all parishioners (new parishioners, those who have not yet made a pledge, and those who have previously pledged) will come forward to join this effort to push us over the finish line as soon as possible.

Thank you for your prayers and support as we continue to take big steps closer to our new parish church!


Sincerely yours in Christ,

Rev. Andrew J. Fisher