MELROSE -- Despite an ongoing legal battle, plans to build a new St. Mary's Church in Melrose continue to move forward.

Almost two years have passed since the historic church was set on fire leaving much of the inside destroyed. Melrose Police Chief Craig Maus says the arson case is still ongoing and now being investigated by the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.

Since the blaze, the congregation has been split in two, those who want to restore the church and those who want to build a new church.

The Friends to Restore St. Mary's group has since filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of St. Cloud in hopes to be able to restore the church. Tim Vogel is one of the group's organizers. He says his group has met with the Diocese of St. Cloud for two mediation sessions. Bishop Donald Kettler attended the second of the two meetings. Vogel says Kettler did mention during the mediation that restoring the church is possible. He adds that no other mediation dates have been set and the Friends to Restore St. Mary's will continue with their lawsuit against the diocese.

Vogel says at this point the group is “pretty frustrated” and “not giving up no matter how long it takes."

The diocese main reasoning behind wanting to build new is to be able to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. Also, a new church would have modern features, such as main floor bathrooms and upgraded technology.

Kurt Schwieters is a Parish Council Member. He says the parish held a community meeting earlier this week, to showcase different designs for the new church and fill the congregation in on the cost and timeline for the project. Schwieters says they are looking at building on a plot of land already owned by the parish on Kraft Drive.

"Where the current church is, is in one corner of the land and then there's a school and a cemetery. Adjacent to the cemetery would be 6.5 acres, approximately, of unused land, that's basically a pasture, that would lend itself very well to building a new structure."

Schwieters says the new church design will have what they call universal access, meaning it will be accessible to people with disabilities. He says the new church will also give church-goers a better view during mass.

"The longest space between the back of the worship space and the altar is 65 feet in a three sides audience. So facial contact, facial expressions can be appreciated."

Schwieters says they would also like to use some of the elements, such as the stained glass windows, from the original church but right now with the lawsuit going on, they can't include those pieces in the new church's design.

The finished church would be nearly 35,000 square feet and is estimated to cost about $11-12 million.

Schwieters says the church can be built in phases. If construction began with the three critical sections of the building, the worship, gathering and support areas, the total cost drops to $7-8.25 million. When adding in the administration, kitchen/fellowship and circulation areas the cost climbs to the full $11-12 million. The Diocese received about $7.3 million from their insurance on the previous church.

A groundbreaking date has yet to be set but Schwieters says building the new church shouldn't take more than one year.

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