San Felipe de Neri Church
San Felipe de Neri Church selected Michael S. Rich Contractors Inc. to renovate its 200 year-old convent.
The historic San Felipe de Neri Church is located on the north side of Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque. It was built in 1793, making it the oldest surviving building in the city. In the last 20 years, the two-story convent had been used as informal meeting and storage space.
We proceeded with the renovation step-by-step, knowing we would face many unknowns. Demolition uncovered structural deficiencies. The first was settlement in one corner that could not be corrected because the “rubble foundation” had no concrete footings. We ensured that water could not infiltrate the foundation, and completed structural repairs to the walls.
Next, we removed the roof and installed concrete bond beams on top of existing adobe walls, ensuring a solid seat for new wood trusses. In constructing the bond beams, we discovered the building was 18 inches out of square. It was a challenge to stay within the project’s budget while building the sloped roof so the 18 inches was not visually apparent to tourists. To accomplish this, we spent many hours taking field measurements, meeting with the roof truss manufacturer, and planning the roof installation.
Many additions had been made to the covenant since it was built 200 years ago, including the second story. Because of this addition, any changes to the building required reviewing what each wall was bearing. One interior buttress had been partially removed many years ago, and had to be repaired. Two new door openings had been added. One doorway was originally installed in a three-foot-thick wall. Our challenge was to repair this door without compromising the building or the second floor. We constructed a concrete lintel above both the new and existing door opening. When the concrete lintel was complete, we filled in the existing door opening so the new door openings could be cut. What should have been a simple task took 45 days.
Once the structure was put back together, we now had the challenge of installing electrical and mechanical systems. We installed the electrical in the walls, ran it up to the second floor, and then to the ceilings. However, the mechanical was another matter. Our requirement was to hide ductwork, furrout and grills. A team-wide brainstorm led to a solution: a Mitibusision dual-controlled chiller system. The freon lines were concealed in the adobe walls: the coils and fan units were installed in the walls with a custom metal grill to match the building decor. We also installed concrete windowsills in the adobe walls to provide structural support. Today, when tourists walk into the convent, they see a 200-year-old building with plastered walls and old wooden beams and decking.
Once we were well underway with the renovation of the convent, the parish came to trust us to restore the sanctuary. Our first task was to re-anchor the 150 year-old alter. The old wooden alter had begun to work its way apart from the adobe wall. Standard solutions would not work, so MSR designed and manufactured its own anchor that is completely hidden from sight.
Eight weeks prior to Easter, the parish asked us complete the remaining restoration work while new pews were being installed. This consisted of removing the canvas at the sides of the alter and replastering the walls. When we removed the canvas, we discovered blue-green walls with painted crosses on both sides. With this discovery, we called a meeting with Monsignor and the architect to discuss how to proceed. All agreed that proper move forward was to leave the walls as discovered and change the color of the wood wainscot of the sanctuary to match newly discovered front walls–thus returning the color scheme of the church back to what it was 150 years earlier.
The success of the restoration of the San Felipe de Neri Church and the reconstruction of San Felipe de Neri Convent was a result of everyone involved committing to help the church last another 250 years. This commitment required everyone to look at each activity in a unique and creative way.