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New HQ for St. Mary's Bank

Nation's first credit union puts tradition behind new walls

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 27. 2013 10:34PM
Floor-to-ceiling windows and a two-story atrium with a curved facade and limestone columns greet customers in the lobby of the new St. Mary's Bank, which opened for business on Monday. (DAVE SOLOMON/Union Leader)
St. Mary's by the numbers
Employees: 230
Branch locations: 9
Year-end 2008 membership: 71,410
Year-end 2008 assets: $652 million
June 2013 membership: 86,071
June 2013 assets: $776 million

MANCHESTER - From his west-facing, third-floor office at the brand-new St. Mary's Bank building on McGregor Street, President and CEO Ron Covey Jr. has a clear view of the curved facade and regal columns that grace the bank's first home on Notre Dame Avenue.

On the other side of Lafayette Park, the three-story home of the bank's first president, Joseph Boivin, stands as a constant reminder of the history and traditions of the country's first credit union. As the current steward of those traditions, Covey keeps Boivin's spirit in mind as he presides over the bank's latest transformation.

Boivin's home, now known as America's Credit Union Museum, is where it all started in 1908. That's when St. Mary's Cooperative Credit Association, renamed La Caisse Populaire Ste-Marie in 1917, opened to serve the French-Canadian mill workers who populated the west end.

The story of St. Mary's Bank is intertwined with the story of Manchester at the peak of the Industrial Revolution and its subsequent evolution into the city it has become. Customers, even non-customers, feel they have a stake in that tradition, and the bank's directors and executives tried to keep that in mind in the construction of their new main branch and corporate headquarters.

"It's a modern building," said Marketing Director Elizabeth Sto-dolski as she stood in the two-story, atrium lobby. "It's for the future, but our history and heritage are very important to us, and we tried to reflect that."

The new building opened for business on Monday, after more than a year under construction. Work still continues on the upper floors. Demolition of the old bank building just behind the new building is underway and will make room for a four-lane, drive-thru and a new parking lot.

"We're still in the midst of construction. We're not done yet," said Stodolski. The formal grand opening will be in the fall.

Redefining an intersection

The construction has redefined the busy intersection of McGregor and Amory streets, where new traffic patterns are expected to enhance the development prospects for nearby properties, including vacant buildings surrounding the Rite Aid on McGregor Back Street.

The new bank doesn't feature the name "La Caisse Populaire Ste-Marie" in 3-foot-tall letters on its rooftop, as did its predecessor, nor does it have the mural of Champlain arriving at Odiorne Point. The mural was donated to the Manchester Historic Association, which will loan it for an extended period to the American-Canadian Genealogical Society.

The letters are being painstakingly restored by Jutras Sign Company in preparation for mounting at the bank's Perimeter Road location, according to Stodolski. "We love that old sign," she said.

St. Mary's customers, or members as they are often called in the world of credit unions, are sticklers for tradition, "and we have listened," Stodolski said.

ATMs at the new drive-thru on McGregor Street will offer English, French or Spanish language choices. Telephone banking continues to offer French as an option, and the new building will always have a French-speaking teller on duty, Stodolski said.

Rather than maintain the Champlain mural, which Stodolski said reflected New Hampshire history, the bank has invested heavily in graphics throughout the building that reflect St. Mary's and Manchester history, working with local agencies such as Image 4 and McGowan Fine Art.

The Boivin Room on the second floor includes a ceiling-to-floor mural of the Boivin home with activity on the street as it looked at the turn of the century. It was commissioned for the bank's 90th anniversary, and a reproduction is also on display at America's Credit Union Museum.

Historic namesakes

The five remaining conference rooms are named for a mill building - Amoskeag, Pandora, Jefferson, Amory and Stark. Each room features a large historic photo of the namesake mill printed on sheet metal.

Offices on the second and third floors are separated from waiting areas by curved murals created on glass partitions. The second floor features a historic panorama of the millyard, while the third floor hosts a wide-angle view of the main office from 1930 to 1970, known as the Marble Building (even though it was mostly limestone with touches of marble).

Columns in the main lobby are made of limestone to reflect the composition of the Marble Building, while its curved facade is replicated on the new exterior facing McGregor Street.

Turning one eye toward tradition, the new building also looks to the future. It was designed to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification, with sustainable lighting, heating and cooling technology throughout, including solar panel arrays on the drive-thru canopy.

Gone are the days of cash drawers, replaced with mini-ATMs behind the counter at each teller station. "It can't get robbed," said Covey. "We can't take any money out of the machine unless it's part of a customer transaction."

From the Wi-Fi throughout the building to the recycled materials used in the carpeting, the new St. Mary's Bank is decidedly modern, yet manages to blend tradition with technology in a way that would likely please a visionary such as Joseph Boivin.

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