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Paric Corp., the firm that oversaw the gut renovation of the building that today houses Aquinas Institute, won the prestigious Keystone Award on Thursday from Associated General Contractors of St. Louis. One judge described the renovation as the “most creative reuse” in the city this year.

Aquinas Institute moved into this century-old former factory in January. The building had been vacant for two years and neglected for years before that. Water and fire had left the space damaged and filthy, but leaders of Aquinas Institute saw its potential, and Paric Corp. had the resolve to get the job done.

“Paric Corp. did more than complete the job,” said Fr. Charles Bouchard, O.P., president of Aquinas Institute. “They worked closely with architect Alan Nehring, and with us, to transform this beat up factory into a building that captures beautifully the personality of academic and religious community who occupy it.”

In the center of the building, where a blackened concrete floor faced cracked windows and stained ductwork, builders erected a chapel, a brilliantly lit and brightly colored space where graduate students and priesthood candidates gather weekdays for prayer. Along the building’s southern wall, where rain had worn away bricks that encased 15-foot windows, builders restored the exterior and created a space that houses thousands of theology books and invites students to linger as they read.

“Paric Corporation, and everyone involved in this renovation, gave Aquinas Institute a space that brings together the old and the new much as the school itself takes the time-tested tradition of the Catholic Church and uses it to respond to issues important today,” Bouchard said. “We’re delighted with the space, and thrilled that Paric has been recognized for it.”

Associated General Contractors presented the award at the Millenium Hotel in St. Louis. The awards serve to honor the most outstanding and innovative construction projects in the city each year. The Aquinas Institute project won “Project of the Year” for building construction less than $5 million. Awards were presented in eight other categories.

Aquinas Institute of Theology is a seminary and Roman Catholic graduate school where laypeople study alongside candidates for the priesthood. The school also offers several alternative-format programs in which students study online and occasionally spend weekends on campus in St. Louis.

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