OAKLAND — The estimated cost of buying and renovating the former St. Theresa Catholic Church and rectory for use as a community center and town office is hovering near $950,000, and town officials are concerned that the deal may fall through if it climbs too much higher.

The town charter requires a referendum vote, which may be held only in November, on any expenditure of more than $1 million. The town has a limited window to complete the deal under the terms of its purchase agreement with the church’s owner, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

In February, the Town Council approved a contract to buy the church and attached rectory, at 35 Church St., from the diocese for $150,000. It proposes to convert the 6,837-square-foot complex into municipal offices and a community center.

Restoring the building, however, may be more expensive than expected.

A preliminary quote from New England construction firm H.P. Cummings put the cost of renovating the building at slightly less than $800,000. The estimate, based on architectural plans, included material and labor costs for demolition, concrete work, new doors and windows, mechanical systems, general conditions and finishes to the building. The church dates to the late 19th century, while the rectory was built in 1960.

Not only is the $950,000 price tag more than expected, but it also puts the town in a difficult timing situation, Town Manager Gary Bowman said.

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Under the terms of the purchase contract with the diocese, the town had 120 days — about four months — from Feb. 5 to complete due diligence on the building, including inspecting its air and water quality, general condition, presence of lead paint and asbestos, as well as winning approval from Oakland voters. An asbestos remediation company is testing the building and expects to submit an estimate to the council by the middle of the month, Bowman said.

The council intended to take its proposal to buy and renovate the church to voters at the May 5 Town Meeting, but a 2012 charter amendment created the requirement that any single expenditure of $1 million or more is subject to a vote by secret ballot in November.

That means that if further costs of the building exceed $50,000, the issue will be forced to a November vote, Bowman said.

Because the 120-day due diligence period expires June 5, the council won’t have an opportunity to bring it to voters.

“We’re handcuffed by that million dollars,” he noted.

The asbestos evaluation should shed light on how much more the town can expect to spend on the building, Bowman said. Since the town doesn’t own the building yet, he has asked the contractors to give a worst-case estimate of asbestos levels. If the cost comes in low, it might be enough to squeak by without breaking the $1 million ceiling. If it comes in high, the town might have to go back to the drawing board.

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“It’s at the brink,” Bowman said.

The diocese gave the town a lengthy due diligence period, Bowman said, but it is unlikely to be extended until November.

“They have to look out for their own interests,” he said.

The church was put on the market in fall 2014 with a listing price of $170,000. Kevin Fletcher, the real estate broker from Portland-based Malone Commercial Brokers handling the property for the diocese, said there was a “significant amount of interest” in the church, but only one other offer, which was rejected, before the town’s bid was accepted.

He is still getting inquiries about the property, even though it is under contract, Fletcher added.

The council intends to convert the 4,513-square-foot rectory into municipal offices for the town manager, clerk, assessor, code enforcement officer and parks and recreation employees. The main church building would be used as a community meeting space.

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If those town departments moved from the existing Town Office, the Police Department could leave its cramped offices in a turn-of-the-century house and occupy the vacated Cascade Mill Road building.

Oakland Council Chairman Michael Perkins said Thursday that he was hopeful the town would be able to follow through with its proposal to buy the church, but he was uncertain if the cost would come in under $1 million, or whether voters would even approve the project’s price tag.

Five years ago, voters rejected a proposal to build a $4.5 million town complex to house municipal offices and the Fire and Police departments.

“If it’s meant to be, it will be,” Perkins said. “If it isn’t, we’ll drop back a bit.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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