An Anglican Saint John church that wants to drop its heritage status so it can afford renovations has been denied the request by the city's heritage board.
The final decision about removing St. George's-St. Jude's Church from the King Street West Heritage Conservation Zone will rest with city council.
Earlier this year, the 191-year-old west side church was denied a building permit to replace peeling cedar shingles on the east wall with vinyl siding.
Heritage bylaws restrict the use of any new materials and the church was instructed to repair the shingles at more than double the estimated $2,800 cost.
Church warden Susan Jack says other cedar shingles were replaced with vinyl siding prior to the heritage designation and the church was unaware it had been included in the zone.
She requested the heritage board remove the church from the heritage zone so the latest repairs could be completed.
"Outreach is our priority. Conservation of the building, unfortunately, is not," she said.
"Our revenues are falling like most Anglican churches’ and our costs, of course, are growing like everything else and because of that, it's an equation that doesn't work and I believe, in the not too distant future, we won't be able to afford the building anymore."
Oldest continually-operating church
But the board rejected the request. The designation is the only form of protection for the country's oldest continually-operating church, said board chair Leona Laracey.
"No one would dispute the fact it's very costly to maintain an older building, but the city of Saint John has provided money through a grant program," she said.
To get a reasonable amount of subsidies, however, requires a heritage conservation plan, "which is expensive in itself," said Jack.
"They do subsidize that, but we're pretty cash-strapped these days and big expenses like that are difficult to manage."
The church will be allowed to complete the east wall in vinyl, but any future exterior renovations will have to revert back to cedar shingles, the board ruled.
"Finances, in terms of our decision, though the board is always sympathetic to an economic argument, finances can't be a sole motivator here," said Laracey.
The fear is that without the designation, the church could be demolished, she said.
Jack says demolition would be the last choice. But faced with rising maintenance costs and a dwindling congregation, she says it's a reality that may not be too far off.