For one of America’s most prestigious church facilities, this year has seen the kickoff of the biggest full-scale restoration in its history. And for a niche company based in Middletown, New York, the project has presented the most high-profile opportunity in its history to show what it can do.
New York’s legendary St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stpatrickscathedral.org) began work on March 17, 2013 – St. Patrick’s Day, of course – on a massive restoration that has involved everything from exterior and interior masonry to plaster, cast concrete, stain glass, bronze doors, and a wide variety of wood surfaces.
And when it comes to wood surfaces, no challenge is more important than the 400 pews that measure between 10 and 20 feet in length. The need to deploy fine craftsmanship to restore the pews to striking, impeccable condition prompted a call to The Keck Group.
Specialists in church pew restoration since 1972, The Keck Group has done work for churches as far away as Corpus Christi, Texas, although the company typically works in the eastern United States. The Keck Group has grown since its early days from 6,000 square feet of operation to 25,000 today, and has 13 full-time employees. With a specialty that absolutely demands the highest level of craftsmanship and attention to detail, The Keck Group’s growth has been the direct result of its excellence in this area. The work is complex and challenging, requiring precise care and intensive training for team members tasked with delivering a perfect finish.
While this is not the first time St. Patrick’s Cathedral has called on The Keck Group for help with pew restoration, the project is unprecedented in its size and scope.
“I would say it’s the most prestigious project we’ve done,” said Bob Koeck, the company’s founder, who has already overseen the complete refinishing of 200 pews that are ready to install.
If not for the gradual pace of the project, Koeck says the volume of the project could have been a serious challenge. The Keck Group’s normal production is 400 feet worth of pews per week. St.
Patrick’s Cathedral has 4,000 feet of pews all by itself – but the project is happening over a two-year period that allows The Keck Group to stay on schedule and still handle its normal workload from other churches.
“We take great care in making sure the end result is excellent. As we go through every step – taking the finish off, prepping, sanding, finishing – we have to apply best practices and tremendous attention to detail.” Koeck said. “A project this large would be one-fifth of our annual volume if it was done all at once, but since it’s being done over a two-year period everything has been able to stay on schedule.”
Ron Pennella, who is heading the restoration project for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, said The Keck Group won the job as a result of a rigorous bidding process that considered experience and skill, as well as price.
“They have history with the cathedral, they’re a local vendor, and I’ve worked with them before in the past,” Pennella said. “And Bob is a great guy, but at the end of the day it all came down to their qualifications, experience, and eventually price, which is a driving issue in today’s market.”
According to Rolando Kraeher, who serves as project architect and manager from the firm Murphy, Burnham & Buttrick, the challenging nature of the project made the type of experience offered by The Keck Group an absolute must.
“You don’t want to hire someone who has no experience, otherwise we would have to be holding their hands,” Kraeher said. “There is a lot of craftsmanship that goes into this, and as the architect you can’t specify what the level of finish needs to be and what they need to do, so you have to let the craftsman do their job – and that comes with experience. Bob Koeck and his company – they have it.”