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Art professor works to preserve Press Building

Saint Vincent Basilica is the first sight to greet students and visitors any time they climb the hill to the college. Yet their eyes may soon wander to another building, a smaller one and equally old, that stands in front of the basilica to the right of the entrance. It’s a three-story brick structure known as the Press Building, and it possesses a complex history. But it is hardly in pristine condition--and the college’s architectural master plan shows it being demolished in favor of a new welcome center.

The building currently houses an electrician’s shop, a carpentry shop, a textile studio and a large stained glass studio run by Br. Mark Floreanini, associate professor of art. Floreanini has been working in the building for about twenty years, but moved into the spacious, multi-room studio he now occupies only four years ago. He explained the history of the building.

“The building was where the Boniface Wimmer statue is now. I’ve seen pictures from the archives of the basilica being built, and this building is way up there. . . I think this was like the work and maintenance building for the people who were working on the basilica originally,” he said.

At some point, he believes, the building was moved to its present location.

For a long time, it housed printing equipment, which gave the building its present name. Floreanini remembers it from his time as a novice.

“[There] were huge metal press-things, there was this great big paper cutter that was probably as long as this table,” Floreanini said, gesturing to a four-foot table. “You could put a ream of paper in and it would just cut it. . . it was scary. I could just imagine chopping your arm off in something like that.”

The building also houses a great many curiosities and even historical artifacts that Floreanini has salvaged over the years. The second-floor hallways are adorned with carved stone stations of the cross, taken from a nearby Benedictine church, now closed, that were purchased and donated by a parishioner. The parish was Hungarian, and the stations all bear Hungarian inscriptions.

“For years they’ve been just lying on the floor, and just last year I thought, well, I’m going to nail them up,” Floreanini said.

There’s old press equipment as well. In the attic, Floreanini is drying willow branches, taken from willows recently cut near the building. He hopes to use them to make willow baskets. And another room in the attic contains a grotesque carved head, several feet in diameter.

“Some monk must have made it years ago,” Floreanini said.

While the attic is dark, the lower floors are ideal for a studio like Floreanini’s, with windows on all sides. His studio currently occupies several rooms, allowing him space both to work on his many projects and to teach classes.

Caitlin Kruzynski, a senior art education major who has studied with Floreanini, thinks the space is superior to the art studios in Carey.

“The studios in Carey are very limited in space and, therefore, make working on large projects difficult,” she said. “ In the studio spaces in the Press Building, there is room for each artist to have an ‘active work zone’, where they can organize their own materials without the need to completely put everything away between classes.”

Mostly, Floreanini produces small mementos to be sold in the basilica shop or the bookstore, but he has also done larger commissioned works.

“I did one four-foot round window for one church, I did a big four-foot by six-foot window for another church,” he said. He also made the windows in the walkway between the basilica and the rest of campus.

Lately, however, he has been using his skills to beautify the Press building.

He said the ceiling is leaking, plaster is flaking and exposed light fixtures are everywhere. Floreanini has redone half the windows on the lower floor, removing the glass, cleaning and replacing it and repainting the wood. He has also produced several stained-glass windows and placed them around the main entrance. And he’s been trying to give the building a more “lived-in” look by putting flower pots in the windows.

Floreanini has gone to so much trouble because he fears the college wants to take the building down.

“Twenty years ago, when I first moved in, they said, ‘Don’t get too comfortable, because the building’s going to be coming down,’” he said.

He is especially worried about the lack of maintenance.

“I think they want it to fall in,” he said.

The Saint Vincent College Master Plan, produced by MCF architects in 2012 and available online, shows a Welcome Center in the building’s current location. The plan is indeed an accurate proposal, though not set in stone, explained Br. Norman Hipps, president of Saint Vincent. But any future work to replace the Press Building is not currently a matter of high priority.

“The master plan. . . is designed to serve the College for the next 8-10 years and the proposed Welcome Center would be further out in that time period,” Hipps said.

Floreanini doesn’t support replacing the building.

“The idea was to take the building down and put up an alumni/welcome center, where there’d be a little gallery, a little coffee shop. In my opinion it’s kind of a vague idea. . . I think people think the [Press] building looks ugly and dilapidated,” he said.

Instead, he hopes for an alternative solution.

“In my opinion the building has character. What I would like is that this building be saved and turned into the art building, because we don’t have an art building.”

But refurbishing the structure may be financially burdensome, Hipps cautioned.

“There have been some engineers who have looked at the Press building and determined that it would not be cost effective to renovate,” he said.

Any final decision, though, will come from the Archabbey, not the college.

That’s because the building is technically monastery property.

“In terms of any immediate plans, it is an Archabbey building whose future will be determined by the Archabbot and the monastic community,” Hipps said. “There is nothing definite at this time.”

Photos: Jonathan Meilaender

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