Among those cheering the March 11 groundbreaking for the renovation and expansion of St. Mark Parish in Westminster were Tricia and Tom Palko. They couldn’t have been happier as St. Mark’s, which is marking its 45th anniversary this year, is foundational in the Palkos’ faith and family life.
The Palkos met as youngsters through St. Mark’s as both of their families were founding members. The Palkos were married there 32 years ago, baptized their children there and both have positions on the parish staff.
“It’s our foundation,” said Tricia Palko, who serves as office administrator. Tom Palko, a physical therapist, serves as RCIA coordinator for the parish.
“I’ve belonged to the parish since the original  groundbreaking,” Tricia Palko said. “My reconciliation class was the first held in the church.”
The $7 million project for St. Mark’s, located at 3141 W. 96th Ave., will reorient and completely renovate the church interior, and will add seating, a new choir loft and baptismal font. It will also add a large narthex for gathering before and after Masses, will add an 80-foot bell tower, a devotional chapel, new accessible restrooms and a covered entrance that will face the existing parish hall. Finally, the project will reconfigure the parish offices, improve outreach ministry space, and will remodel classroom areas.
“We’re updating the whole church,” said Father Ken Koehler, pastor of St. Mark’s since 2004. “It’s basically doing everything. It’s going to be really nice.”
Established in 1973 and built the following year, the church was expanded in 1986. A parish hall was added in 2001.
The current project, which was designed by Integration Design Group and is being built by Haselden Construction, is set for completion in a year. Meanwhile, Masses are being celebrated in the parish hall.
“Hopefully, we’ll be back in the church for Easter ,” Father Koehler said.
The project is primarily being paid for by a parish capital campaign, which drew support from nearly 60 percent of the parishioners – nearly three times the support of an average campaign Palko said. Savings and proceeds from the sale of a property also contributed.
“The entire parish has shown appreciation for this project,” Father Koehler said. “I’m deeply moved by their support and excitement about it.”
For the last several years, the parish studied and discussed the needs of the parishioners and the different ministries and met with city officials who confirmed what the parish was experiencing – an increase of young families in the neighborhood due to lower square-footage-pricing than in Denver proper, as well as growth due to increased homebuilding and development on the west side of Interstate 25 in north metro Denver and the addition of RTD’s B Line light rail from downtown Denver to Westminster two years ago.
“In 2015 we were told the population should increase by 20,000 people in five years,” Palko said. “We knew we had to do something to accommodate the need.”
The renovations will mean better access to the church and to the busy parish food bank, a gathering area for fellowship that will provide for respectful silence in the worship space, and a reverential baptismal space that will allow for immersive baptisms.
The recent baptism of the Palkos’ newest grandchild was the last to take place before the church was closed for construction.
“We always joked it was the punchbowl rite because that’s what it looked like,” Palko said, laughing. “I almost wished we’d waited for the gorgeous baptismal font we’re getting.
“This project is amazing for our parishioners,” she added. “It’s a great way for our community to grow and to fulfill the needs of the groups we have.”