After showing its planned expansion to the Town Plan & Zoning Commission (TPZ) July 13, representatives from the St. Pius X Catholic church heard rave reviews.

"I've seen lots of presentations," TPZ member Douglas Souter said. "And this is the most intelligent and beautiful design I've seen."

Several residents of the Brookside Drive area agreed.

"There are no objections in the neighborhood," said Tom Buckley, of Galloping Hill Road, whose property backs up to the church's property. He added that St. Pius has been a "wonderful neighbor" over the years.

The Brookside Drive parish -- formed in 1955 -- is planning its largest construction project in decades. It wants to add a roughly 14,000-square-foot wing to the back of the church building. The wing would run east, parallel to Brookside Drive, filling some of the parking lot space between the church and nearby school building.

The wing would house a chapel, recreation and office space. It would also help transform the 13-acre lot at the foot of Greenfield Hill into more of a "campus environment," said attorney John Fallon, who's representing the church. Creating that campus setting is central to the construction plans, church officials said.

Currently, the "L"-shaped property is split into two halves -- a grassy area to the north that holds a sports field, and a concrete expanse to the west, from which the church building rises "like an island," said Richard Kent, the project's landscape architect.

By ringing the entire property with grass and shrubs, Kent hopes to streamline the setting, and to place the church and its proposed recreational and office space at the center. The hub of that campus would be known as a "faith center."

Monsignor Larry Carroll, who's been pastor of the parish for eight and-a-half years, said the new chapel would be used for weekday services, prayer groups, book clubs and other small gatherings.

He said the multi-purpose area would host social events, youth groups, parish council meetings and luncheons following funerals and weddings.

The new office space, he said, would house the church's continually growing staff. In 2006, the parish developed a long-range vision for the church that expanded the "ministries and opportunities" available to parishioners, Carroll said. This has necessitated hiring new staff members.

Currently, there are 16 people serving in staff positions at the church, according to the parish website. They handle music, finances, housekeeping and religious education. Carroll said that more than 1,000 students now attend weekly religious education classes at the parish.

"We've outgrown our original facilities," he told the TPZ. "We have new needs that can't be met in those facilities."

If the TPZ approved the project at its meeting last night (after press time), then the church's building committee will seek bids for a construction contract by the end of August. The addition, then, could start this fall, said Denis Sullivan, the chairman of the building committee.

Sullivan said the construction should last around 10 months and that it will be financed by the parish's $5.5 million capital campaign, which began in late 2007 and is "well past" the half-way point in terms of collections. Those funds will also pay for other church improvements, Sullivan added, like new roofing for the church and refurbished pews.

The project would also add seven spaces to the parking lot, and bring the total there to 285, Fallon said. Most of the spaces would be turned perpendicular to Brookside Drive. They would be interspersed with patches of grass and bushes, Kent said.

During the public hearing, Gene Fairfield, a parishioner since 1970, lauded the expansion plans. After stating that six of his children went through the church's religious programs and that his wife is now a nurse there, Fairfield said, "I couldn't be more pleased. There will be uses down the road which we cannot now foresee."