Craftsmen laying stone foundations for a new Catholic church on Cayadutta Street in Johnstown in 1925 probably didn’t expect their work would one day house an aircraft upholstery repair shop.
“That’s not the sort of thing that naturally comes to mind,” said Ken Goldfarb, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
Mark Farrington, chief operating officer of Lake George-based ReadyJet Technical Services, recently got city Planning Board approval to move a portion of his business into the former Immaculate Conception Church building. Despite the unconventional pairing, he said, the place is perfect for the aircraft upholstery industry.
“It’s a beautiful building,” he said. “All stone, slate roof, exposed beams, plenty of windows. It’s going to be an inspiring place to work.”
All told, the property has roughly 16,500 square feet of work space, mostly contained in a community hall behind the church proper. Farrington said executive offices will fill the old stone church, with the repair facility set up in the hall.
By the end of next month, he said, the operation will be up and running and ready to hire 10 people and repair some old aircraft seats.
“We’ll grow from there,” he said.
Over time, seven more corporate employees will be brought on, eventually creating a total of 17 local jobs.
He couldn’t release the building's sale price because contracts with the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese are still in their final stages.
Over the phone Thursday, Goldfarb said he was pleased to have the building at least very close to officially sold.
“This way it’s back on the tax roll,” he said, “hopefully doing good for the community.”
Immaculate Conception was left empty by the Call to be Church movement several years ago. Large-scale mergers closed more than 30 similar buildings across the diocese’s 14 counties and there have been challenges getting them all sold.
Churches are built for a specific purpose. There’s large area for people to congregate for a message, another large area for those people to eat potluck dinners, and a few classrooms for their children to attend Sunday school.
Because of the very specialized design, it’s often difficult to find a second use for a church building after the congregation has left.
Gordfarb said the diocese first approaches other religious denominations and community organizations before selling to the private sector.
“The largest number of our empty church buildings are now just other churches,” he said. “A few of the smaller ones are private houses. One in Troy is a frat house.”
The odd, large spaces required by a congregation don’t tend to fit conventional businesses. Farrington said his business is the exception.
He plans to set up glass partitions in the former sanctuary for office space, but wants to retain that open church feeling. His company, he said has a very open and communicative atmosphere that will fit in the big space.
He first noticed the church building years ago, back when it had a congregation.
“I live on the Sacandaga,” he said. “I used to go to ItalianFest there. I always liked it.”
Counting Immaculate Conception, Goldfarb said roughly two-thirds of the buildings left empty by the Call to Be Church effort have found new uses.
St. John the Baptist is now home to Schenectady’s Light Opera. St. Peter and Paul in Canajoharie is owned by pipe organ enthusiast Eric Stroud. Now, after years of disuse, Immaculate Conception will witness the rebirth of countless aircraft seats.