NORTHAMPTON — During its Jan. 29 meeting, the Historical Commission decided to delay conversations around what to do about a cupola that was recently removed from the St. John Cantius Church to its Feb. 26 meeting.

Discussions around the cupola, which is a large, dome-shaped structure, spawned from a recent letter sent by Sarah Stine, the vice president of O’Connell Development Group — the owner of the property — to Sarah LaValley, the assistant director of Northampton’s Office of Planning and Sustainability, detailing how the cupola was in worse condition than imagined.

“Once access to the cupola was available, it became clear the metal shell of the cupola as well as the interior structure was in worse condition than previously understood,” read Stine’s letter.

The structure in question is an octagonal cupola that was on the east end of the roof directly above the apse. A 2022 structure report said the cupola is made of galvanized sheet metal and has a ribbed copper dome with a metal cross placed on top of the dome.

The letter sent by Stine stated that the cupola was not properly connected to the structure of the church and experienced heavy animal damage to the structure’s major support posts.

Originally, the cupola was slated to be restored based on approved drawings put forth in March 2023, but these newfound conditions forced O’Connell to remove the cupola in November and place it in dry storage. O’Connell is now requesting a permanent removal of the cupola.

The Historical Commission must decide whether they should approve this request based on a review of the historic preservation restriction that was placed on the structure.

According to Stine’s letter, permanent removal of the cupola would be considered a major change within the exterior category of the Historical Restriction agreement, but it must be done, according to O’Connell.

“The damage to the cupola far exceeds what we expected when first preparing for the work of the building restoration,” said Stine, in the letter. “There are many challenges associated with repurposing a historical former church building into multi-family housing, most of these challenges come down to budget and the amount of new housing which is controlled by the existing window openings. With regards to this one element which impacts neither the structure nor the quality of housing for future residents we would like to request relief.”

GNCB Consulting Engineers, a Connecticut-based structural engineering firm that is working with O’Connell on the repurposing of the former church, determined that repairing the cupola was “not practical” and that “additional structural analysis would need to take place to evaluate how the cupola should be tied into the main structure of the building if it is to go back in place.”

During its Jan. 29 meeting, the Historical Commission tasked O’Connell with finding more information about the cupola, including whether it was a part of St. John’s original structure. The hope is for these findings to be presented at the Feb. 26 meeting.

These conversations come a little over a year after the city of Northampton gave O’Connell $500,000 in Community Preservation Act funding for exterior repairs and preservation of the St. John’s Cantius Church.

In 2010, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield closed the church at Hawley Street and Phillips Place after a myriad of parish consolidations. Afterward, several groups put forth failed redevelopment plans for the church, which was built in 1913 by Polish Catholic immigrants. O’Connell Development in Holyoke eventually purchased the property for $1.26 million.

O’Connell initially said they would preserve the church and put townhouses around it, but the coronavirus pandemic put a dent in that plan, so the development group applied to demolish the church entirely for five units of three-story houses for 10 Hawley St.

After pushback from Northampton’s Polish-American community about the possibility of the church’s demolition, O’Connell returned with a redevelopment plan for the church in the spring of 2022, which includes a $4.6 million project to build 10 residences for rent on the property.

rfeyre@thereminder.com | + posts