why the projects take longer than expected

In May 2019, with a lot of communication, the city of Rouen launched a call for projects to sell 4 of its deconsecrated churches in exchange for a project to bring the site back to life while improving the buildings. Where we are?

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Festival of Lights 2022 in Lyon

The sale of the Rouen churches had caused a lot of talk and received a national echo, but three years later, where are we with the various projects? On site, no scaffolding or traces of any construction site… Clarifications.

In Saint-Nicaise, the future brewery is on track, but it will take 3 to 4 years longer than planned

In December 2019, at the time of the results of the call for projects, it was the transformation that had caused the most talk: turning the church into a craft brewery. An idea defended by Pierre Marie Soulant and Benoit Rousset, owners of the Ragnar brewery, even before the town hall launched the call for projects. The two young entrepreneurs are in love with old stones and heritage. “We fell in love with the page”, explains Pierre-Marie Soulant.

From the summer of 2020, they tested their concept in the garden of Saint Nicaise with an ephemeral bar. Three years later, the project continues to move forward, but it will take much longer than expected. Initially, the brewers hoped to open the brewery in 2023, today they aim for 2027 instead.

“We were a bit naive about deadlines, the heritage sector takes a long time, it’s something that is beyond us”

Benoit Rousset. Co-founder of Ragnar Brewery

Blending a gothic heart from the 16th centurye century and with an art deco nave from the 1930s, Saint Nicaise Church became a historical monument last spring. A classification which makes it possible to protect the building better, but which at the same time reinforces the restrictions. Not enough to worry the entrepreneurs who fought for this location. They will thus be able to benefit from a 30 to 40% subsidy for the restoration of the building.

Today, the first significant step in the project, the architectural diagnosis has just been completed. He revealed that the concrete on the walls of the church was in poor condition and will require more work than expected. But in this church, where the service lasted the longest (it was only closed in 2002), it is especially the future of the numerous pieces of furniture that was discussed with the regional director of cultural affairs, DRAC. What is not exhibited or used in the brewery and catering room will be visible in a small museum to be built in the garden. Another point of negotiation with the cultural institution, the size of the tanks, it will be reduced. The beer brewed in the building will only be used for on-site consumption.

Total estimated at 8 million euros both for restoration (4.5 million) and development (3.5 million), the project has already benefited from the income from the summer opening of the garden. “The success of the ephemeral bar allows us to give credibility to the final project. Initially, we were not sure that the people of Rouen would come to the district, which has long suffered from an unfavorable image.”

After validation of the diagnosis by the Regional Culture Department in 2021, and a year of investigations, work should be able to begin in 2023 with an estimated opening in 2027.

video length: 03min 42

Where are the calls for projects from Rouen churches? episode 1

©France 3 Normandy

A few meters from rue Jeanne d’Arc, in the heart of the city, the ruins of the Saint-Pierre-Du-Châtel church have been waiting for 60 years to have a future. Of the 4 buildings put up for sale by the municipality, this is the one with the fewest remains… On these 15th century ruins, the promoters wanted to create a restaurant with 3 charming hotel rooms and a roof terrace overlooking the city . But today the future of the project is still in doubt…

The architects have a duty to reuse the church’s frame in the project, saved from the bombings in 1944 and stored for years in the town hall’s warehouses. However, the reuse of this framework is precisely one of the points of discussion between DRAC and the promoters. They have already had to change their project by removing especially the guest rooms because a vault was discovered in the church tower. They therefore recently put forward a new proposal to highlight this structure to the Regional Directorate for Culture. Without using it for construction, it would be a matter of exhibiting it, they are now awaiting a response from the cultural institution.

From the municipality’s side, we hope that the discussions will succeed in restoring these ruins and especially in seeing them live. “Here we are still at work. We are here to create this balance point between the promoter and the DRAC. Everyone is claiming their territory, everyone knows there has to be a way out.”

Difficult to find compromises between the cultural institution that finances part of the work and defends the preservation of the building and the visions defended by the project managers for whom the profitability of the investment in relation to a significant cost arises, 3.8 million euros for Saint – Pierre du Chatel. A balance that is all the more complicated to establish, since the basement of these buildings, rich in discoveries, does not allow the slightest foundation to be made there….

In fact, when a construction project is presented at a site, preventive archaeological excavations are carried out. If these suggest interesting discoveries, two options are available to the manufacturer. Either he does not touch the basement, making any foundation impossible, or at the request of DRAC, he has to carry out a complete excavation of the site, which can delay the project by two to three years and cost an additional 300 to 400,000 euros depending on the site. Only then can he lay his foundation.

“The game is to avoid having to do whole excavations”

Alain Marion-De Proce. Project manager before development in Metropolis Rouen Normandy

A feat for architects who must therefore construct contemporary buildings without being able to anchor themselves in the ground…

A few meters from the Place du Vieux Marché, in rue Sainte-Croix-des-Pelletiers, its facade goes almost unnoticed. Only insiders still remember that behind its walls there is a church. A building of the 15e century, which has long functioned as a performance hall. A place that Pascal Givon and his business partner would like to bring back to life.

“We want to reopen the church to the people of Rouen, by recreating a forecourt where everyone could come to work even without consuming. At the bottom there would be a restaurant on two levels with a mezzanine which would open onto a hanging garden at the back of the church.”

But here is what poses a problem, precisely the mezzanine or rather how to solve it. A first phase of archaeological diagnosis revealed that the soil protected remains, making it impossible to install the micropiles envisaged by the architects unless a complete excavation of the site was carried out: too expensive and too far…

The frame is not strong enough to be attached to it, so the only solution left would be to attach it to the posts of the current church without damaging them. A real headache for the entrepreneur who has already had to spend more than 200,000 euros on studies and give up the apartments he wanted to build in the adjacent building, but not enough to make them give up.

“We are doing it for heritage. It is good to restore this church. Can it be financially balanced between the cost of the work and the expected profitability? I still believe that”

Pascal Gion. Ste Croix des Pelletiers project manager

The future of the site depends on the outcome of a new campaign of archaeological excavations. They must determine whether the church’s pillars are strong enough for the mezzanine planned in the project to adhere to them.

In early December 2022, INRAP archaeologists were on site. “We found graves and a church that would be before the current church. The columns from the 15th century rest on these old foundations, so it had to be strong enough beforehand to support the development projects.”says Sylvain Mazet, head of INRAP Seine-Maritime.

Good news for the project managers, although it will be necessary to wait for the report of the archaeologists and then the experts and again the validation of the DRAC. But if all goes well, they can submit their building permit in 2023.

video length: 03min 46

churches for sale. Project progress

©France 3 Normandy

We will now have to act quickly because the sites that have been closed since 2015 have been invaded by pigeons and are deteriorating very quickly.

At the other end of Rouen, the Saint-Paul church also awaits its new life. The building, which was offered twice during the tendering of projects, did not find a buyer. “We had many projects in the restoration, but nothing that ensured financial viability and that improved the site.”explains Elisabeth Labaye, municipal council member for marriage/inheritance.

The metropolis has therefore decided to keep the building and not leave it to decay. She could turn the place into a place dedicated to contemporary art, although nothing has been decided yet.

The church of more than 2000 m2 is the largest of the 4 put up for sale by the city of Rouen, next to it is a small Romanesque chapel from the 11th century.e century erected as a historical monument. Due to a lack of faithful, it was closed in 2000 and has a small garden and many stained glass windows. But here is what slows down the projects, its location in the heart of an intersection with heavy traffic, at the exit from Mathildebroen, with no possibility of parking.

“The metropolis is well aware that the site’s accessibility must be improved, so we will find a place to live here.”

Elizabeth Labaye. Municipal board member for marriage and inheritance in the city of Rouen

To transform buildings or ruins from the 15th century into bars or restaurants without touching a single stone or digging a single foundation, this is the challenge for developers who responded to calls for projects from Rouen churches. But to achieve this, they will have to show imagination and technical skill.

Giving a new use to these churches, which sometimes come to us from the depths of time, is a dream idea, but renovating and transforming these buildings with a rich past turns out to be much more complicated than expected in the end.

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