Last week I met with some of the local Mormon public affairs folks -- volunteers who are tapped by the church to help out with press work, among other things -- to talk about what's happening locally in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We talked about a range of subjects, among them the three construction projects that the church is working on in Greater Boston -- the construction of a new stake center in East Cambridge (above), the rebuilding of a burned-down chapel near Harvard Square, and the planned construction of a new chapel in Brookline. Here's a detailed update:
The 36,000-square-foot Cambridge Stake Center, under construction in Kendall Square, is the largest of the projects, and will house three congregations (called wards) as well as the administrative headquarters for 14 Mormon congregations north of the Charles River (the group of congregations is called a stake, which is akin to a diocese). On July 13, there was a "topping-off" ceremony at the site, at Rogers and Second Streets, marking the completion of the steel structure; the building is expected to be finished and to open next May, according to Grant Bennett, the spokesman for the Cambridge stake.
The Longfellow Park chapel, which was essentially destroyed in a fire in May, will be rebuilt over about 18 months, Bennett said. He said the building will look much as it did before on the outside, but that the interior will be modernized. (Some details from a follow-up e-mail from Bennett: "The rebuilt Longfellow Park building will have the same appearance externally, except there will be an emergency exit added on the gym and a handicap accessibility ramp at or near the front entrance. Inside, the building will be very similar to what was in place before the fire. The building will have an elevator to provide handicap access to all three floors. The building will continue to be the home for the Longfellow Park First and Second Wards, the University Ward and the Institute of Religion.") He said the fire was not arson (a concern because a Mormon chapel in Belmont had once been torched by an arsonist) but instead was apparently caused by some kind of electrical problem related to squirrels. The three congregations that worshiped there are now using space offered to them by the nearby Episcopal Divinity School.
The project in Brookline, on land along Route 9, is on the slowest track, because of neighborhood opposition. Julie Berry, the spokeswoman for the Boston stake, e-mails: "We're still planning to build a chapel in Brookline. We're in an 18-month stay that expires in November, and can't start construction until that point. We've been consulting with Finegold & Alexander, Boston-based architects, as well as Burt, Hill, regarding the design of the chapel, though no final designs have yet been announced. That's about the extent of it."
Finally, Bennett mentioned that the church also owns land in Woburn, where it may build a chapel at some time in the future, but nothing has been planned at this point.
(By the way, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has just posted a statistical portrait of Mormons in the U.S. on its web site.)
(Image courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)