Feb 092011

Bishop Martin Amos, center, blesses the holy water held by Deacon David Montgomery, left, during the blessing of the renovated St. Vincent’s Center in Davenport on Jan. 19. Deacon Frank Agnoli holds the book of blessings.

By Barb Arland-Fye

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw how good the light was.” — Genesis 1:3

DAVENPORT — Light, figuratively and literally, permeates the newly renovated St. Vincent’s Center which serves as the Davenport Diocese’s headquarters, offices for 51 individuals and home to 13 priests.

As it emerges from bankruptcy brought on by the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and a capital campaign that inadvertently coincided with the worst economic recession in 70 years, the diocese is embracing the light. It’s visible in the color scheme of the building’s interior, the energy efficient lights and windows – 440 windows total — and the opening up of unused space on the third floor.

“Jesus tells us not to keep our light under a bushel basket; we’re to radiate that light. This project is about us being light for others in the diocese,” said Bishop Martin Amos, who especially appreciates the light that enters the bay windows in his third-floor office. “You can see the tops of the trees; it’s a great place for reflection.”

“I think the difference we were able to make to the interior is so dramatic. I hope it allows the people who work here to feel better about their jobs and that they like to come to work because it’s a pleasant place,” said Dana Wilkinson, chief executive officer of Paragon Commercial Interiors Inc., Davenport, who was responsible for the building’s interior decorating.

Not so visible, but definitely evident, are the cost-saving measures the renovation committee achieved to ensure good stewardship of capital campaign funds. You won’t find lavish features or furnishings anywhere in the building which began life as an orphanage in 1897.

Renovation avoids extravagance

“Bishop Amos and Msgr. (John) Hyland are outstanding stewards of our diocesan funds,” observed Mike Johnson, president of Clinton Engineering Co. Inc., general contractor for the renovation.  They and the other renovation committee members “were very thoughtful and thorough when it came to making decisions about the building. They certainly kept us on our toes, and required us to leave no stone unturned in the search for the most economical, efficient and tasteful solutions to face-lifting an old building, without going ‘over the top.’”

Total cost of the project is about $3 million, which includes purchase of diocesan headquarters and 5.5 acres surrounding it from St. Ambrose University in Davenport. The university acquired all 58 acres of the diocese’s property in 2009 from the trustee handling the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s liquidation of diocesan assets. The diocese borrowed money to purchase the $1.225 million portion, but planned to pay back the loan with proceeds from the $22 million diocesan-wide capital campaign completed this past summer.

Employees, volunteers and clergy are grateful to make use of a historic building that provides a more cheerful and spacious setting in which to serve parishes, schools, universities and other organizations.

“It certainly has made our spaces more useable. We’ve upgraded technology; we have conference rooms that will accommodate our needs. The building has had a facelift; it presents itself well. The people of the Diocese of Davenport should be proud of the renovations,” said Lee Morrison, superintendent of diocesan schools.

“I really appreciate that we got to stay in the chancery building and that the retired priests who live here are remaining here with us in the building. I also appreciate that the building is more energy efficient,” said Sheryl Lackey, diocesan accountant.

An answer to prayer

“In all of our staff meetings we pray. Without God’s help, nothing happens,” said Dave Wolfe, the diocese’s maintenance supervisor and renovation committee member who’s worked in the building for 20 years and also graduated from the school it once housed. “God made this project happen. We have to recognize Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and for getting us through this project and making it happen.”

As an expression of that gratitude, many employees and volunteers participated in a Blessing of the Renovated St. Vincent’s Center on Jan. 19. Bishop Amos began the ceremony outside the bishop’s suite, which contains the offices of bishop, vicar general and chancellor in what used to be the building’s chapel. At each suite of offices, conference rooms and even the third-floor restrooms, an individual representing that specific area asked for prayers and the bishop sprinkled the doorway with holy water.

The diocese’s headquarters for 37 years, St. Vincent’s Center was in obvious need of renovation. “There were hallways where the carpeting had split and duct tape was used to cover up the area,” said Msgr. Hyland, who was a student in the school in the mid-1950s. Today he is the diocese’s vicar general and served as renovation committee chair.

Renovation rather than relocation seemed the best option after Tom Fennelly of Russell Construction Co. completed a structural analysis that concluded “the building we had, with renovation, would be good for another 50 years. I won’t have to worry about this again,” added Msgr. Hyland, with a smile.

Work started in fall 2009 with demolition of the third floor, which previously housed the chapel, an apartment for seminarians and old classrooms that had become storage areas. St. Ambrose University students were a big help clearing out junk and hauling it away, he said. 

Project builds rapport

Hallways in the building’s north and south wings, where some of the diocese’s retired priests reside, were painted and re-carpeted. The main building’s renovations included painting, carpeting, new lights and windows, installation of an elevator and construction of new offices and conference rooms on the third floor. The third-floor chapel has been relocated to the first floor retired priests’ chapel which has been expanded to accommodate 50-60 people. Outside, McCarthy Improvement built a new, 20-space parking lot for visitors and expanded a general use parking lot in back of the building to accommodate about 60 parking spaces.

The renovation opened up office space for staff members who had offices elsewhere and for The Catholic Messenger, diocesan newspaper. Space is also available for training sessions for larger groups such as parish and school staffs, added Deacon David Montgomery, the diocese’s communications director and renovation committee member.

Snafus along the way were resolved in renovation committee meetings where diocesan staffers, contractors and subcontractors developed good rapport.

“This has been one of those great projects where I truly enjoyed every aspect and everyone I had the chance to work with and get to know,” said Wilkinson of Paragon Commercial Interiors. “Just working in an old building like this, there’s always surprises you have to work around. We always came up with a way to resolve a problem.”

Renovation committee members

Individuals who served on the St. Vincent’s Center renovation committee were:

Committee chair Msgr. John Hyland, vicar general for the Davenport Diocese; Dave Wolfe, diocesan maintenance supervisor; Dave Huber (now retired), diocesan maintenance; Arnie Anderson, diocesan maintenance staff; Deacon David Montgomery, diocesan communications director; Robert Butterworth, diocesan technology director; Mike Johnson, president, Clinton Engineering Co.; Jeff Stoller, project manager, Clinton Engineering; Brian Johnson, renovation foreman, Clinton Engineering  and Bishop Martin Amos.

Chancery staffers, visitors comment about renovation of St. Vincent’s

Former St. Vincent’s residents share memories

St. Vincent’s: Serving orphans, students, adolescents, all Catholics

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