Hugh Connolly - Mastermind behind new construction at Misericordia
by Ann Wilson
Many of us enjoy Misericordia’s beautiful, leafy campus, with its modern brick buildings, impeccable landscaping and a happy, positive vibe. The campus we know today was the vision of Sister Rosemary Connelly. With the help of her brother-in-law, Bob Connolly, then several decades later, her nephew, Hugh, she spearheaded a slow, steady improvement plan that began in the 1970s and continues today.
In March 1976, 39 children moved to Misericordia North from their south side location, and the campus was in general disrepair. Bob Connolly was the first person to work at the site. Prior to his arrival, it had been the vacant location of the former Angel Guardian Orphanage. Bob spent the first two years readying the stage for the campus we know today. He successfully oversaw the rezoning of the entire property to a Planned Unit Development which allowed Misericordia to legally build and operate a multitude of dwellings. Bob created a master plan; he tore down approximately 80% of the old buildings that could not easily be made to meet the new life safety codes and renovated those that could be repurposed. He installed all of the site utilities and infrastructure that Misericordia currently uses to support both the renovated buildings, as well as the newly-built buildings. Additionally, Bob had overseen the physical planning and physical development of Misericordia‘s campus for 30+ years. He was also responsible for the development of each of the off-campus CILAs, often searching for, and finding them, himself.
Bob’s son, Hugh Connolly, often accompanied him. From age five, young Hugh grew up visiting his father’s construction sites. His grandfather would pick him up from kindergarten and take him to his dad’s projects. He loved construction and design so much that he worked in an architect’s office throughout high school. While in high school, Connolly and his two older brothers, under his dad’s guidance, did all of the interior demolition on the first renovated building on campus. This was the original Administration Building, now the Gleason Grace Center. It took them two weeks to complete the demolition.
Hugh’s passion for rehabbing old buildings continued to grow. He had tagged along on weekends with his dad whenever he would go to check on progress or meet with contractors at the original Misericordia South. Connolly recalls, “I was hooked seeing an old dilapidated attic space repurposed into something new and completely different for the children there.” Connolly continued to work as a laborer all through college on multiple Misericordia projects and for several general contractors after college away from Misericordia. “I’ve worked at Misericordia for the last 30+ years and can honestly say that I have been involved with every building either newly built or remodeled on and off campus,” says Connolly.
Hugh attended the University of Denver and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration with a dual emphasis in Real Estate Finance/Construction Management. The program taught Connolly most aspects of real estate development and construction. The practical side of development he learned from his father.
As the current Owner’s Representative for Planning and Development, Hugh Connolly is responsible for any and all major design/build construction projects for Misericordia. This includes the procurement and oversight of the physical land planning, architectural design, the landscape plan, any required city zoning amendments, city permitting, contract bidding and awarding, daily construction management services with the general contractor, weekly Owner, Architect and Contractor meetings, all IDPH state licensing requirements and state and local certificate of occupancy certificates before turning a building over to Misericordia.
Just how does a general idea for an on- or off-campus residence become move-in ready? What exactly is the process? How does the building/design process play out? Connolly states, “In the early stages it’s typically me with Sr. Rosemary, Father Jack, Kevin Connelly and Mary Pat O’Brien. We discuss an objective or need that has not been met within our community and agree to the broad strokes of a solution. Other members of the Executive and Administrative Teams will join in on additional meetings to help fine-tune the program requirements. I will then start to meet with our architects, engineers and land planners to create a concept that our staff can respond to. The process continues until most, if not all, are satisfied and we have created Construction Documents (Plans and Specs). We then are on to legal, zoning, permitting, General Contractor selection, bid reviews, insurance, subcontractor selection, building permit, surveying, ground breaking, and finally the construction phase to turn key. Ultimately, I am interacting with and shepherding dozens upon dozens of people throughout the process. Some years we have taken on multiple projects. It can get very frenetic.”
I asked Connolly what the process is for finding a contractor when a new building is set to be built. I wondered about the challenges of finding a contractor familiar with the complexities of a building being ADA compliant, not to mention meeting Chicago building codes. Connolly says that they have worked with several of the big name Chicago general contractors over the years: P&E, Pepper, Henry Brother’s, Bulley and Andrews, and Walsh. Connolly notes, “Having a general contractor who understands both the nature of your mission, and the constituents you are serving is very critical to the success of a project. We have found that partner in The Walsh Group. They are most attentive to any and all of our needs throughout the construction process and have facilitated the process beautifully on the majority of our most recent campus projects.”
Regarding regulatory compliance, Connolly adds, “ADA is just one small aspect of what standard we are required to build to. When we are building any residences here at Misericordia, we must meet a federally mandated NFPA Life Safety Code administered through the Illinois Department of Public Health or IDPH. This is the most stringent code in the country. It supersedes, and sometimes contradicts, the City of Chicago Building Code. Having architects, like Doug Mosser and Eden Richards from HKM Architects, is imperative to navigating this complex code. HKM understands the nuances of this code as it relates to our different types of residential licensing requirements both on and off campus. All of these different licenses are administered through IDPH.”
Additionally, the alderman is involved in any building project. Connolly adds, “We have worked extensively throughout the years with our aldermen. Most recently, the new Hearts & Flour Bakery and Café on Ravenswood required a special-use permit through zoning. We tore down a dilapidated strip center, but needed a special use permit for the desired drive-thru. We held several Town Hall Meetings with our neighbors and Alderman Andre Vasquez to help them better understand our plan and to address any concerns. Our good friend and attorney, Bridget O’Keefe, successfully guided us through the City Council’s required zoning amendment for the drive-thru’s Special Use Permit. We are also actively working on the former Unity property in concert with Alderman Vasquez. We have successfully amended the site’s previous zoning designation and incorporated the site into our existing campus’s long-held Planned Development zoning jurisdiction. We are currently awaiting final permits to start construction of 16 new homes in what will be called Sister Rosemary Park.”
The pandemic threw yet another wrench into Connolly’s latest project. Connolly says, “We had just broken ground on the new Bakery and Café. My morning commute was a snap, no one was on the road, AND construction was deemed essential by the Governor, so I was happy to be able to work. There was a core group of about 6 of us in a double-wide construction trailer every day. These were my cohorts. We masked up, did daily temperature checks and installed air cleaning devices. No one got sick. The subcontractors did not congregate at the trailer, but they were required to abide by the same masking, temp checks and hand sanitizer usage on site. It was easy when everyone was outside, but as the building progressed and work moved inside, we had to keep people from being too close together. I think only one tradesman was sick the entire construction time and fortunately we didn’t have any outbreaks throughout the project’s duration.”
Hugh Connolly is proud of his construction accomplishments. He says, “I am so proud of playing a part in the creation of Misericordia Home’s campus and seeing its evolution from a fallow group of very old, very institutional orphanage buildings transformed into the beautiful campus that we have today. If you saw how unattractive it looked in the early 70s, you would not have believed my father’s vision for what it could be. He saw its potential, created a master plan for the site and implemented it. He loved Misericordia and imparted that love, vision and wisdom to me. In the process he made me a believer. The world is a better place because of Misericordia, and Sister Rosemary was the catalyst. She believed, she was asked, she answered the call, she never wavered and she placed her confidence in others to assist her, she only demanded a better life for the most vulnerable members of society, and boy did she deliver! Being part of that is what I am most proud of.”