On Oct. 1, 2016, people filled the streets of Corona, N.Y., celebrating completion of restoration and rededication of Our Lady of Sorrows RC Church, almost two years after it was extensively damaged by a devastating fire. Several hundred attendees filled the church to capacity, overflowing to the school auditorium and tents that were set up outside, making it clear how much this church means to the community it serves. H2M architects + engineers was called upon to lead the rebuilding process, and to take the opportunity to modernize the church for the next century.

Our Lady of Sorrows RC Church, built in 1896, suffered extensive smoke, fire, and water damage after an electrical fire engulfed the church’s choir loft, spreading through the attic and across the roof. The fire inflicted severe structural damage to the roof framing system. The local fire department arrived quickly and saved the building. Beyond the roof and structural damage, water and smoke damage were also a significant problem. The entire church needed to be stripped down to its bones, and a new roof had to be installed.

The parish has a large following, with 13 masses every weekend filled to capacity. In the meantime, to accommodate this outpouring of faith, using a large tent erected for the duration of the project in the school playground and the school auditorium, masses continued on schedule. Father Roden, pastor for the parish, said, “The parish is like a second home for its members.”

H2M was tasked with designing the structural repairs, inclusive of stabilizing the front façade, a new slate roof, exterior cleaning, repairs and pointing of the brick façades, new suspended ceiling systems to replicate those lost due to the fire, new lighting, air conditioning, fire alarm, a new main altar with handicap access, chandeliers, new flooring, interior finishes, and more while keeping within a tight budget from the insurance provider.

H2M was tasked with designing the structural repairs, including new suspended ceiling systems to replicate those lost due to the fire.

A custom-sized wood roof joist was needed to match the destroyed 120-year-old joist. Steel attachment brackets and details needed to be developed to attach the joists back to the existing steel trusses. All bolts on the trusses needed to be inspected and many tightened due to expansion during the fire.

The floor beneath the sanctuary needed to be shored within a crawl space below to be able to support a working scaffold within. The shoring was then left in place and used to carry the load of a new porcelain tile and mosaic floor. 

A new steel structure was designed and installed beneath the main altar, replacing old wood joists, to allow for a concrete deck beneath the new marble altar.

Parishioners were extremely happy with the way the finished project came out, and H2M was pleased to be able to help the church community during this painful process and to be a part of this church’s rebirth for the future.

Frank Smith, senior architect at H2M architects + engineers said, “Being at the church the morning after the fire, seeing the destruction, and witnessing parishioners crying in the street out front was very moving. I was glad to be able to see the project through, from initial destruction to reconstruction and to the embellishment of the interior with a brand new liturgical scheme. It offered me a chance to devote myself to not only a project, but also to being a part of rebuilding something of personal importance to me.”

Information provided by H2M architects + engineers (www.h2m.com).