history + renovation
The rich history of the property began in 1866 when Martha Bailey purchased three acres of land in Ben Avon to build an impressive three-story, solid-brick Italianate home that featured more than 18 rooms. The home changed hands several times over the years, and owners included Sarah Thompson, Florence McConnell, and then Charles and Alice McNally, who lived there with their eighteen children.
In 1935, the Franciscan Brothers from Pulaski, Wisconsin purchased the property from the McNally family for $39,887, naming it St. Anthony’s Friary. For 67 years the brothers used the Friary as their base to provide outreach to the Polish immigrants they moved here to serve. The brothers immediately built an addition onto the rear of the building, and further expanded the building in 1947 by replacing the large porch with a large space for their chapel. In 1967 the brothers “remodeled” the building with paneling and drop ceilings. By 2002 the order had dwindled to just a few brothers, who made the decision to close and sell the Friary.
In 2004 Jean and Richard Misutka purchased the Friary with plans to renovate the large home for a vacation getaway. Those plans changed when Richard died six months later, and the renovation was put on hold while Jean and her five grown children dealt with the loss. The family later opened the doors of the Friary to welcome families displaced by Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In 2011, Jean listed the property for sale.
The size, location, and condition of the property presented a problem for most buyers. Too big for a home and costing too much to be turned into apartments, the building was considered a white elephant in the community. Some proposed tearing the building down to put townhouses on the property, but the two-acre lot wasn't large enough for the to make that plan economically feasible.
The Friary’s most recent chapter began in February of 2012, when Nium owner Bill Stabnau pursued zoning changes with Ben Avon Borough to adapt the space for his growing design business. Bill and his wife Amy purchased the property in October of that year, beginning an extensive $1.6-million, two-year renovation project. The building was updated with new heating and cooling systems, plumbing, utilities, and a large amount of site work for parking and landscaping. Paneling, flooring, drop ceilings, kitchens, bathrooms, outdated lighting—all were removed and redesigned to take the interior back to its original footprint. The renovated building stands as an homage to its past, with a beautifully modern touch.
2012 to 2014
The purchase and renovation of the Friary was a lengthy process that took nearly two years to complete. The first six months consisted of obtaining a new zoning category and amendment for the property, required by the borough because of it previous usage. While structural changes to the exterior of the building were minor, extensive site work was required to accommodate parking and utilities. Due to the amount of paneling and interior additions, the architectural measurements and drawings could not be completed until after demolition had been completed. Construction issues with the primary contractor halted progress on the project for about five months while a new contractor was found to complete the project.
Unfortunately, almost all of the original interior trim and architectural elements had been stripped from the building during a 1967 "remodeling" when paneling and drop ceilings were in vogue. In contrast, Nium decided the interior of its new office would be an homage to the past while still functioning as a contemporary business setting. Other than the removal of a closet to create a hallway, the building was restored to its original footprint.
Even stripped back to its original specifications, the building measures 13,000 square feet over four stories, necessitating a great deal of attention on energy efficiency. The existing radiators were moved, painted, and re-installed to accommodate the stud framing that had been added to the interior for wiring and insulation. The existing 1947 boiler was replaced with two high-efficiency boilers for heat, and efficient Mitsubishi mini-split units were installed in each room to provide cooling. The building makes use of LED lighting throughout, resulting is utility costs not much higher than an average house.