Persons, places and things: Tales from chancery renovation project

By Barb Arland-Fye

Glitches are inevitable in any renovation project involving an old building and the St. Vincent’s Center makeover has been no exception.

Take, for example, the two arched windows above the front entrance of the 113-year-old building, which serves as headquarters for the Davenport Diocese.

Years ago, the windows spanned an open stairway between the second and third floors that had long since been removed. To meet fire safety codes, the opening had to be closed off. During renovation this past year and a half, members of the renovation committee thought they were in agreement to brick up the windows.

Bishop Martin Amos, a stickler for maintaining the architectural integrity of the building, apparently had not been present at the meeting when that decision was made.

Sometime later, the bishop and Dave Wolfe, the diocese’s maintenance supervisor, were outside St. Vincent’s Center viewing the building’s exterior. The bishop was startled to see workers hoisting bricks up to the arched windows and asked what was going on. Within a short time, the bricks were hauled back down and plans were in place for two shorter, arched windows to be installed on the lower level of the third floor and two square windows were to be installed in upper level of the second floor.

Jeff Stoller who is overseeing the renovation project for Clinton Engineering Co. Inc., the general contractor, said he and other workers were tempted to play a joke on the bishop by placing plywood boards with a brick design over the windows so he’d think they’d been bricked up anyway. Bishop Amos, whose woodworking and carpentry skills gave him some clout on the renovation committee, laughs at the idea of anyone pulling the wool over his eyes.

The beneficiary of the arched windows is Dan Ebener, the diocese’s stewardship director, whose third-floor office now has the most unique view in the building. The arched windows rise from the floor to a height just above his desk.

“Bishop Amos likes to say, ‘the tallest person has the shortest windows,” Ebener quipped. “When I’m working at my computer screen I have a beautiful view of St. Vincent’s grounds.” 

Aside from glitches, at least one urban legend emerged in the renovation process. Dana Wilkinson, chief executive officer of Paragon Commercial Interiors Inc., Davenport, handled the building’s interior decorating. One project involved installation of a glazed tile wall in the dining room. The yellow, tan, brown and gray tiles complemented the interior colors throughout the main building. Each tile was numbered so the colors would blend harmoniously.

Wilkinson says that as the worker laid the tiles, a painter approached him and asked, “What kind of design is that?” The tiler jokingly replied, “Can’t you see, it’s the Last Supper?” The painter agreed that he could see a resemblance. But the story spread that the Last Supper was appearing on the wall, and other workers — not wanting to be the one who didn’t see the Last Supper — concurred with the first painter’s assessment!

These are two tales from behind the scenes that I couldn’t resist sharing about a project that demonstrates good stewardship of resources for the people of the diocese.

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