NEW YORK — After 18 months of a giant construction mess, St. Francis Residences here – supportive housing for homeless men and women with chronic mental illnesses – are renovated.
The extensive $2.2 million dollar project – double the initial estimates — included renovations to all three of the apartment-style residences, run by John Felice, OFM, John McVean, OFM, and Tom Walters, OFM, of the St. Francis Friends of the Poor in Manhattan.
The work included new lobbies, corridors, bathrooms, flooring, wiring, plumbing, painting and much more. Much of the work was behind the scenes, according to John Felice, as wiring was done in the walls and sub-flooring was ripped out and replaced. Outside work was also done, including grouting between the aging brick façades.
“If it didn’t move, we painted it,” laughed John.
Finding a Surprise in Building II’s Lobby
The buildings had not been renovated since the Friends opened the Residences 27 years ago, and they were showing signs of wear and tear. “The residents, with their mental health issues, tend to be hard on the buildings,” said John.
In Building II, construction crews unveiled a turn-of-the-century-style fireplace and vaulted ceilings, which were incorporated into the beautiful new lobby.
“Some people have been asking what I’ve been doing since I left the Provincial Office,” said John. “I’ve been busy in the construction business. All three of us have.”
More than 80 bathrooms were gutted and refitted with new tiling and fixtures, as well as more than 100 of the 270 resident rooms renovated. Newly painted, the buildings are now bright and cheery. While the renovation was completed in August, John said construction crews are still working on two elevators.
The three friars oversaw all of the construction work, hiring the general contractor and trouble-shooting through unforeseen problems that came up. “Every time we turned around, something else had to be done,” said John. “We are all quite happy it’s done now.”
Built in the 1890s, the apartment buildings were converted to single-room-occupancy hotels during the Depression. When the Province’s St. Francis Friends of the Poor bought the buildings in 1980, the group renovated them.
History of the Renovation Work
In January 2006, work began at St. Francis Residence I, redoing all bathrooms, replacing flooring in all corridors and common space, the façade of the building, replacing the emergency exit lighting throughout the building and repainting. Residence I was completed in June, and in July work began at St. Francis Residence III on Eighth Avenue. It was completed in September, and in October the final renovation began of St. Francis Residence II on West 22nd Street. Residence II is the largest of the three buildings and the most in need of renovation.
“I had forgotten how expensive it is to do renovations,” said John. “Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters and tile workers seem to make more than our doctors. What I thought was going to cost around a million dollars rapidly approached twice that. Welcome back to the real world.”
John added: “One joy in all this is seeing the buildings returned to the condition they were in the day they were opened,” The real surprise is seeing the excitement of the tenants with all the newly renovated bathrooms and common space.
The residents couldn’t be more pleased. “They love it – it’s very bright and cheery.” He also credits the residents with great patience during the construction.
John invites all members of the HNP community to stop by and see the renovations any time.
Shown in photo, from left, are: John Felice, John McVean and Thomas Walters.
— Wendy Healy is a contributor to this newsletter.