By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 20, 2014
ATLANTA—If you have been to Mass in any one of hundreds of new church buildings, attended a new or renovated Catholic school, or learned something about your faith in a new parish center in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, you likely have George Barrie to thank.
The longtime head of Catholic Construction Services, Inc., Barrie has stepped down after some 17 years guiding parish projects to completion and will retire. He will continue to serve on an interim basis until a successor is found.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory accepted his resignation with “heartfelt thanks for his service and successful work.”
“I pray for many years of continued health and happiness for George and for his family,” he said in an announcement.
Barrie has been the department’s first and only leader. He came from the construction industry as the archdiocese sought to bring professional oversight to construction projects which, in the past, were handled entirely by a pastor and parish volunteers.
A construction boom in the archdiocese was about to begin as he started as president and CEO of Catholic Construction Services. The archdiocese had completed a fundraising campaign, getting some $102 million in pledges. New school buildings were scheduled to open for students in 1999 and 2000. The schools included two high schools, Our Lady of Mercy in Fayetteville and Blessed Trinity in Roswell, and three elementary schools.
“The schools had to be open in two years. It was a little nerve-wracking,” he said.
A native of New York, Barrie, who is 70, is a civil engineer by training. “I wasn’t good at much else,” he said laughing about his career choice. His father also worked in construction.
Early on, Barrie did survey work for firehouses and police stations in New York City. He came to Atlanta in the early 1970s to work as a superintendent for a firm building the Colony Square complex in Midtown Atlanta.
He was also one of many volunteers serving on the archdiocesan construction oversight committee. But it became clear volunteers could not carry the load from the influx of planned building activity. And that’s when the department was created.
Catholic Construction Services, Inc., is a corporation owned by the Atlanta Archdiocese to provide construction management services for archdiocesan capital improvements. Its staff includes construction project managers. Barrie came from Laing Properties, Inc., where he was senior vice president of development and construction for commercial and residential projects.
Since 1997, the archdiocese has only grown larger, with exponential growth in the Catholic population and a rapid need for new or expanded facilities. Some 500 building projects have been completed since he started with a value of close to half a billion dollars. He has also assisted with 125 land acquisitions.
Catholic Construction Services is responsible for reviewing and approving all construction-related contracts within the archdiocese. Barrie has been the first contact for building committees after a project has been initially given a go-ahead by the archbishop. A Catholic Construction Services project manager continues to work with the parish or school through the project’s completion.
Barrie said he has not second-guessed his decisions as he looks back.
“Nothing has jumped out at me that I would have done differently,” he said. “We probably could have planned for expansion better.”
One of his favorite projects turned Roswell farmland into a complex of Catholic institutions: Blessed Trinity High School, Queen of Angels School, St. Peter Chanel Church and St. George Village, a Catholic continuing care retirement community.
“Unless you were involved at the time that these projects were being designed, budgeted and constructed, you would never know the energy and stress level involved getting them started and completed on time and within budget,” he said.
Msgr. Edward Dillon was an administrator in the archdiocese at the time Barrie started.
Priests aren’t trained as construction managers, so they have to depend on others, said Msgr. Dillon, now pastor of Holy Spirit Church, in Atlanta.
“Consequently, the advice the pastor received could range from highly skilled to barely competent or maybe not really competent at all. George leveled the playing field on that, so pastors could be sure of having someone on the construction team who had only the good of the parish as his agenda,” he said in an email.
Msgr. Frank McNamee worked with Barrie and Catholic Construction Services as St. Peter Chanel started as a mission church and then became a thriving parish community. Barrie brought know-how to every phase of the project, from archdiocesan construction guidelines to city permits, said Msgr. McNamee, now the rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King.
Barrie ensures the “t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted” as parishes embark on construction projects, said Msgr. McNamee. “He tried to keep us on task and on track,” he said.
And Barrie, at times, has had to bring parish building committees back to reality when they come with “tremendous wish lists,” he said.
St. John Neumann Church, in Lilburn, built a 36,000-square-foot complex with a $6.5 million price tag.
Deacon Bill Marten said the work done by Catholic Construction Services, under Barrie’s leadership, is a great benefit to parishes starting large building efforts.
The office knows the right questions to ask, the ways to save money, and guides the parishes, said Deacon Marten, the parish business and finance manager.
“I can’t imagine doing a building or project without their help. They make it more easily done,” he said.
Barrie and his wife plan to retire near family members in Charleston, S.C.