Clinton Franciscans’ new office is gentler on the earth

The Clinton Franciscans’ new administrative office was designed and built to reflect the congregation’s commitment to care for the earth by practicing and promoting conservation and mindful consumption and by working toward a sustainable way of living. Posing in front of the building are, from left, Sisters Teresa Kunkel and Jan Cebula, the congregation’s president.

By SallyAnn McCarthy

CLINTON — Their commitment to care for creation guided the Sisters of St. Francis in the construction of their new administrative office building.

 Perched on a hill overlooking Springdale Drive in Clinton, the building provides 11 offices, a workroom, conference room, parlor, kitchenette and full basement with conservation in mind.

The Clinton Franciscans blessed the building last month, four months after moving in, so that as many Sisters as possible would be home to participate. The move was historic. For 118 years the Clinton Franciscans had shared space with students, faculty and staff with whom they ministered in Clinton.

But the Sisters sold the former Mount St. Clare College property and were looking to relocate. They decided in 2008 to build a new office on their property between their home, The Canticle, and The Alverno Health Care Facility.


“A ‘green’ building was our goal from the moment we decided to build,” said Sister Teresa Kunkel, who chaired the building committee. “As Franciscans, we are committed to care for creation. Our new office is an embodiment of that commitment.”

Tietjens-Lockhart Construction of Clinton built the office structure.  Using local labor and material sources reduced fuel emissions in addition to serving the local economy.

The building is served by a geo-thermal heating, ventilating, water heating and air conditioning system. Five separate zones each with a programmable thermostat provide comfort without waste.  There is no use of natural gas or fossil fuels in the office building, the Sisters said.

The design of the building reflects that of The Canticle, even featuring bricks left over from The Canticle construction. The 6-inch exterior walls have energy efficient insulation made of cellulose — recycled newspaper, and the ceiling insulation exceeds standards set for energy efficiency.  All of the offices are on outside walls and have multiple thermo-pane windows that provide enough natural light to reduce the use of electric lighting. The windows also provide views of the surrounding native tall grass prairie that the Sisters planted 12 years ago to reduce water runoff.

 “We need to see the beauty of God’s creation as we work to do God’s will,” said congregation President Sister Janice Cebula.

The hallways and interior rooms all have Solatubes — domes on the roof that capture sunlight, reflect it and direct it into the building for continued reduction in electric usage.  The Stratus Lights in the building are high-efficiency light fixtures using long-lasting T-8 fluorescent lamps. The perforated side baskets provide radiant illumination and the indirect components reflect light for a soft, even glow. Interior windows bring natural lighting to the interior workroom and emphasize the openness of the floor plan.

The flooring is Marmoleum, a covering made from predominantly harvestable, natural raw materials and processed via an environmentally friendly procedure without harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or other toxic chemicals. The main ingredient is natural linseed oil mixed with wood flour, rosin and limestone and colored with ecologically responsible pigments.  It is allergen free and biodegradable.  The carpeting in the entryways is recyclable and the carpeting in the conference room and parlor has recycled content and is recyclable.

The water-based paint is also low in VOCs, containing no petroleum-based solvents, and allowing much lower emission of potentially harmful gases. It contains no or very low levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde.  Wood was used for doors and trim, again eliminating petroleum products. The three restrooms have dual flush toilets to conserve water.

Most of the furnishings for the building are also recycled, brought from the old office.  New chairs and tables feature Kenaf fibers that are annually renewable, contain no formaldehyde and are made of natural and non-brominated fire-retardant materials. The chair seats also are made of totally organic and recycled material.

What visitors to the new offices will see first, are the native flowers and trees that have been planted around the building to enhance the beauty and to provide a buffer against the wind. Composite pavers, which circle the building to form walkways, are made from more than 95 percent recycled tires and plastics. According to the manufacturer, VAST Composite Pavers, “100 square feet of pavers prevent 40 tires and 1,500 plastic bottles from spending the next million years in an overflowing landfill.” The pavers allow water to soak through to the ground and prevent water runoff, as does the gravel parking lot.

Some visitors to the building wonder, “why do nuns need an office?”

Religious congregations of Catholic women such as the Clinton Franciscans are nonprofit corporations that provide for the needs of their members – the Sisters — and sustain the work of their many ministries.  In addition to The Alverno, the Clinton Franciscans also sponsor the Mount St. Clare Speech and Hearing Center, the Mount St. Clare Education Foundation and the Clinton Franciscan Center for Active Nonviolence and Peacemaking.

Clinton Franciscans minister in seven states and in Chulucanas, Perú, and in many ways — in prayer and contemplation, education, pastoral and health care. They provide academic and religious education, spiritual direction, ministry to the elderly, peace and justice advocacy, direct service to the impoverished and accompaniment with persons with developmental disabilities.

The Clinton Franciscan family also includes Sojourners, lay women who share their lives and work with Sisters, and associates, lay men and women who form a partnership with the Sisters to live the Gospel in the Franciscan spirit for the purpose of spiritual growth in prayer, ministry and community.

The new building provides offices for the congregation’s president, general secretary and treasurer, director and assistant director of finance, development director and planned giving office, communications director, the Center for Active Nonviolence coordinator and support personnel.

In the closing prayer of the blessing service, the Sisters prayed “that the same spirit of faith, fire and fidelity to mission” that characterized their predecessors who first came to Clinton to open St. Patrick Parish School in 1891 would carry them forward, “desiring only that God’s peace may flow from this place and encircle the world.”

That is the purpose of their new office.

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