Snow daze: Parishes, schools struggle to deal with storms

BRAINTREE -- As locals dig out from under the snow that has buried the Northeast this winter, parishes are finding ways to pay for snow removal bills and schools are deciding how to make up days canceled due to the weather.

Already this year, the Boston area has been hit with over five feet of snow, and in January alone, Logan International Airport recorded 38.3-inches for the third snowiest January on record, according to the National Weather Service.

"The big thing is the cost involved for people to come to church safely to worship," said Father Aidan Walsh, pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish in Milton.

St. Elizabeth's has a contract with an outside vendor for snow removal including plowing the parking lot and shoveling the sidewalks and six entrances to the church.

Last winter, when the National Weather Service reported the Boston area tallied just under 36 inches over the entire season, the parish spent around $18,000 for snow removal, but parish business manager Mary DiCenzo anticipates that costs will exceed her roughly $25,000 budget this year.

DiCenzo noted that snow removal budgets are set in advance. She said factors involved in establishing the figure are based upon factors such as last year's costs and estimates on what it may cost this year.

"It's really a guessing game when you're doing these budgets," she said.

Parishes in the northern Massachusetts are also facing similar situations.

Father Ronald St. Pierre, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Tyngsboro, said his parish budgeted between $5,000 and $6,000 for snow removal from the parking lots and sidewalks of parish campus. St. Mary Magdalen currently includes a parish center in Tyngsboro and a church in Dracut.

With several more weeks of winter still to go, the parish has already used a good portion of the money.

"We've budgeted the amount and it's there," Father St. Pierre said. "We're going through it quicker than in years past."

Father St. Pierre also said that the parish pays a minimum of $425 per storm for removal services.

"Luckily enough we have a parishioner who has been good on the rate," he said. "He hasn't gone up in a couple of years."

In spite of this year's increased winter costs, Father St. Pierre said the parish will not need another collection for snow removal. He said his parish already takes a collection during the year for that purpose.

St. John the Evangelist Parish in Chelmsford schedules second collections for heating and snow removal throughout the year, with the most recent one coming the weekend of Jan. 29 and 30.

Father Paul Ritt, the pastor, noted that his parishioners generously respond to the request.

"They understand their own snow removal in their home and properties is costly in some cases," Father Ritt said.

Liliana Lucas, the business manager at the parish, said that the collection took in 84 percent more revenue than the same collection last year, a far less snowy winter.

She also noted parishioners have also volunteered to help clear snow.

"That is taking an expense we would have to pay somebody else away from us," Lucas said.

She also said the parish pays individuals who may be unemployed or underemployed to help with shoveling.

St. John's pays a seasonal cost of $6,600 for snow removal with an outside contractor, a contract which includes three or four storms per month. She said the vendor charges an extra $800 per month to relocate the snow to make room for additional accumulations.

Lucas said St. John's has not exceeded its snow removal budget yet.

Parishes with schools are particularly affected, as they must pay for snow removal for both the church and school parking lots.

"It's been tough," said Msgr. Francis Strahan, pastor of St. Bridget Parish in Framingham. "We have pretty much depleted our budget in that regard."

Msgr. Strahan said he thought the parish would have to add a second collection in the future to meet the increased costs this winter.

The St. Bridget's campus includes two parking lots that hold a combined 60 cars. He also noted that due to the amount of snow less space is available for use.

Father Walter Waldron, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Roxbury, said he does not have an explicit snow removal budget for the church and school.

"It has to be done," he said.

Father Waldron said he is thinking about changing his parish's upcoming heat collection to a snow collection.

Schools are also grappling with another particular snow-related issue -- making up snow days.

"A lot of schools build in several days (to their yearly calendar), but we're at the point of how we're going to make the days up," said Archdiocese of Boston Deputy Superintendent for Academic Excellence Bill McKersie.

McKersie said specifics for regaining lost time vary across the archdiocese.

He noted that the elementary schools' schedules are closely tied to their local public schools because buses are provided by the local districts. In that case, Catholic elementary schools would schedule additional instructional time to align with local public schools.

However, whereas public school students are bound by state law to attend school for 180 days, McKersie said that Catholic schools are not subject to that policy.

Still, McKersie noted the Archdiocese of Boston's policy intends for students to attend class for 180 days.

Traditionally, students in Grades 8 and 12 graduate a few days earlier than their peers in other grades, and McKersie said the decision of when to hold graduation would be left to the local schools "to decide what is best for students."

Kathy Eldridge, principal of St. John School in Wellesley, said her school has had 2.5 snow days prior to the storm of Feb. 1 and 2, like the Wellesley public schools. They have five snow days built in to their school calendar.

"It has definitely been a nuisance but that's where we are in terms of snow days at this point," she said.

St. John's Prep in Danvers, meanwhile, has used 4.5 snow days, including Feb. 1.

"It's pushing the upper limits," said principal Edward Hardiman.

He said school officials have not decided on a plan to make up days yet. However, he noted that students in Advanced Placement courses will have to make up lost instructional time on Saturdays or after school to prepare for their May exams which cannot be moved.