The Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, had a collective vision to take an abandoned seminary campus adjacent to the historical Mission Concepcion and repurpose each existing building on the land. Since the 1720s, this expanse has been a valuable resource/haven for the community. Today, the property provides affordable housing, educational venues, common areas, playgrounds, and other valuable resources for the faith community – even a dog park for its four-legged citizens!
A new rehabilitation for St. John’s Seminary proved to be highly challenging and complex. However, the final results were nothing less than spectacular.
Giving historic structures new life
An old cafeteria was converted into a “pilgrimage,” and ultimately became a welcoming center. Another building – an existing chapel – was transformed into a conference center to serve needs of local businesses and organizations.
According to Erin Albrecht, owner of J&R Tile, Inc./NTCA Five-Star Contractor headquartered in San Antonio, “During our first meeting with the architectural team (Fisher Heck Architects and key representatives from the Archdiocese of San Antonio), we collectively realized the importance of this complex historic rehabilitation. Because of the history of the site and its buildings, special care, great expertise, and major attention to detail were absolutely needed.
“Interestingly,” continued Albrecht, “historic artifacts were discovered while digging. And this required an archaeological team to be onsite. Old gun barrels were actually found in the walls, which were originally used as cement rebar. Not to mention an occasional cannonball being sifted out throughout the grounds, halting construction for safety reasons, as one may imagine.
“Our work included many parts of this project,” she added. “In fact, over 8,000 sq. ft. of completely different materials were selected for just two buildings. Products comprised stunning glass mosaic radius wall tiles, large-format floor and wall tiles, handmade decorative pieces in restrooms and of course, historic exterior Saltillo tiles, so common in this area. A reliable installation system was imperative for all of these meticulous installations, and our team knew we could rely on materials from Bostik,” Albrecht stated.
Adorning the conference center radius wall
Entering the conference center, people are greeted by a beautiful and massive radius wall adorned with 1″x1″ blue glass mosaics tiles (on 12″x12″ sheets) including original stained-glass panels towering high above. Bostik’s Dimension® RapidCure™ grout was specified due to its strong blending characteristics. Because it’s glass-filled, it provided unique aesthetics, letting light pass through the grout joint and into the tile, creating a three-dimensional appearance. Architects selected an amber color for this grout, mimicking the original stained glass towering above with its blue and gold colors. This created movement and amazing reflections that tied everything together.
“Over the years, we have used Dimension in many projects,” added Albrecht. “Our experienced installers were able to get grout lines perfectly lined up on such a large radial wall, without seeing the sheet lines. There is no room for error when creating a continuous run of mosaics. And, it helps to have a good apprentice keeping the grout lines clean and open, always ready to receive the grout, as well!”
In addition to creating a seamless design with flowing mosaics on such an enormous wall, the installation team needed a high-performance mortar that allowed installers to be meticulous in placing each sheet precisely. Bostik’s BAM™, with its extended open time, provided excellent vertical grab as workers adjusted each individual sheet.
The clients were ecstatic about the final result – a true work of art – that greets every visitor who enters this historic landmark.
Adjusting for various sizes and thicknesses
Handmade 6″x6″ custom decorative tiles were specified for restroom walls in both buildings. These complemented the large-format porcelain base tiles. Bostik’s Big Tile & Stone™ Mortar, (which J&R Tile’s team refers to as “our workhorse”) was used here. Installers lined up the large 6″x18″ base tiles with handmade tiles, irregular in sizing and thickness. This mortar’s open time worked well, allowing the team to focus precision skills on sanitary cove trim at the floor-to-wall transitions, field tile, and handmade tiles framed out with trim and decorative strips to ensure grout joints lined up perfectly.
“We had several pre-construction meetings with the architect regarding layout of the flooring for the restrooms in both buildings. Plans were drawn with a 50% offset, and we educated the architect and general contractor both about today’s grout joints relating to facial dimension variations in tile needing to be three times the difference. When the architect’s desire of a 1/8” grout joint ultimately led to [us citing the] TCNA Handbook on the 33% offset for the large-format tile, we were ready to move forward,” Albrecht continued. “For quality assistance, we used a mechanical lippage tuning system during installation to assure zero possibility of 1/32″ lippage after flattening the floor to the 1/8″ per 10′ flatness standard required.”
Hand-picking tile and grout for an authentic look
Maintaining an authentic look, the installation work on the exterior new Saltillo tiles became one the team was truly proud of. Saltillo tiles installed decades ago don’t have the same surface color as those manufactured today. Architects did not want an abrupt color difference, so the J&R team worked with the local distributor, hand-picking the tiles, pallet after pallet, to find the exact pieces. Back at the shop, the team tested grout after grout with the Saltillo tiles to ensure the best possible color match with the older tiles.
There was also a lot of prep work on the existing concrete to get the perfect substrate. This included manual grinding, chipping, and flattening to achieve proper substrate flatness prior to the mud work.
While crew toiled matching dated tiles and grouts along with tedious surface prep work, Mother Nature wreaked havoc with plenty of rain, adding exterior challenges such as keeping adhesives – and the crew! – dry, and bloating of the newly chosen Saltillo tiles. Mud-In-A-Bag™, a pre-blended mud mixture, was incorporated for the mortar beds. With so much rainfall and temperature variations, all were confident in the strength and stability a thick-bed installation of Mud-In-A-Bag would offer installed by an NTCA Five-Star Contractor.
Doing a historical restoration includes keeping expectations realistic, while providing top service to owners, architects, general contractors, and others involved. With the right products and skilled workers, this proved easy to do.
The architects specified different surfaces to breathe new life into St. John’s Seminary. From surface preparation to grout, the Bostik products offered superior protection with comprehensive warranties and full installation systems. Superior strength, smart technology, and the beauty of a job well done – with Bostik Systems, one gets the total package. The firm’s innovation and technology clearly position Bostik as a flooring industry leader. And, because this historic landmark has entered into its third century of service, revitalized by professionals and loyal citizens, reinforces St. John’s legacy of providing a strong and inspiring an ongoing Roman Catholic presence in San Antonio.