What began as a phased project to upgrade the heating, ventilation and air conditioning at St. Augustine Parish in Barberton hit some snags and resulted in the loss of heat in the church and school, forcing the temporary relocation of some students.
Fortunately, space was available at nearby St. Paul School in Akron for about half of St. Augustine’s K-8 students to attend classes in person. Father Matthew Pfeiffer, St. Paul’s pastor, said the parish school closed in 2018 due to declining enrollment. Since then, part of the building has been used by two homeschool groups on different days.
The two schools are about six or seven miles apart and Father Pfeiffer has a “history” with St. Augustine Parish, serving as parochial vicar there for about six months before his February 2014 appointment as pastor of St. Paul Parish. Father David Majikas has been St. Augustine pastor since December 2005.
Elaine Faessel, St. Augustine principal, said the parish has been planning for the HVAC project, which has an estimated cost of $1.5 million, for about two years. The first phase – scheduled for this school year – included the first floor of the school and the church. Contractors planned to shut down one boiler during this phase, believing the remaining boilers could provide enough heat for the rest of the school (the second and third floors) and church.
But that didn’t happen.
Father Majikas said when the heat was turned on, water started running down the walls in the school and there was no heat in the church. He said the original boilers were replaced in 2002, but much of the underground infrastructure is original and needs updating. Further complicating the project was the pandemic, which caused delays in obtaining needed material and supplies for the project.
“The students were wearing coats in school in November,” Faessel said. “We hobbled through until Thanksgiving and then did a week of remote instruction.”
But she was bothered by the idea of having to continue remote instruction for all students until at least Easter, so she and Father Majikas decided to seek alternative space for in-person instruction.
“St. Paul’s came to mind,” said Faessel, who happens to be a St. Paul parishioner. She noted after St. Paul’s closed, some of the students transferred to St. Augustine School, so for a few, this arrangement is a homecoming.
Discussions between the two parishes were fruitful, and some St. Augustine students – primarily younger students – are attending class in person at St. Paul School. Father Pfeiffer said he expects the arrangement to continue until about mid-April.
“They are using some of the classrooms, the office and sharing the gym,” he said. After St. Paul School closed, Father Pfeiffer said they retained a number of classroom furnishings for use by the parish and other groups.
At its peak in the 1960s and early ‘70s, Father Pfeiffer said St. Paul School had about 1,400-1,500 students. “Many of the families worked for Firestone. It was a very Catholic area,” he said.
St. Augustine School has an enrollment of about 200 in preschool through eighth grade. Faessel said preschoolers are housed in a separate building so the HVAC issues did not affect them.
Father Majikas said the project continues and some heat has been restored to the church, which dates to 1926. The school was built in the 1950s, he added.
When the work is finished, Father Majikas said church and school boilers will be separate and there will be air conditioning. A ramp and a handicap-accessible restroom will be built, which required reconfiguration of the school office.
“We have a beautiful building in a beautiful setting,” Faessel said, adding she is looking forward to the project’s completion.
“I am just glad we that we had the space and were able to help,” Father Pfeiffer said.