Dedication set Nov. 7: The blessing and dedication of Siena Hall, the new on-campus residential facility at Aquinas College will be at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 7. Bishop David Choby will be on hand to dedicate the building. The public is invited to the celebration.
When the students moving into Aquinas College’s brand new residential facility, Siena Hall, got their first look at the building and their new home, there were squeals of delight and joy.
“It was just fun,” said Mary Ligowski, a sophomore theology major from Wake Forest, North Carolina. “The excitement was crazy. It was palpable. You could feel it in the air.”
Fifty-five female students on Friday, Sept. 30, moved into Siena Hall, the first on-campus residential facility in Aquinas’ 56-year history.
“Today is a culmination of God’s blessings, lots of hard work, and a dream that has been a long time in the making,” said Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, O.P., president of Aquinas College, which is owned and operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville.
|Hannah Finley, right, a sophomore nursing student from Erin, Tenn., unloads her belongings from her car with the help of Cray Kennedy, a freshman history major from Chicago, and Ron Hazen, the director of management information systems at Aquinas College. Students at Aquinas College began moving into their newly constructed dorm on Friday, Sept. 30. The school built its first on-campus dormitory to eventually house a little over 100 students. It opens this semester with 56 residents. Aquinas staff volunteered to help students move into the new dorm rooms. Photos by Rick Musacchio
“It changes everything,” Sister Mary Sarah said of the opening of Siena Hall. For several years, the school has been changing from having a student body with a large number of older students from the Nashville area pursuing a second career, to one that has more traditionally-aged students from a variety of states, “which is more sustainable,” Sister Mary Sarah said.
The transition began when the college cemented an agreement with its neighbor, Saint Thomas West Hospital, to use the Seton Lodge on the hospital’s property as a residential facility for students, Sister Mary Sarah said. That allowed the school to attract more students from outside Nashville and Tennessee.
The new Siena Hall, which is 44,000 square feet and has room for 101 beds, gives the college room to grow and accelerate the transition, Sister Mary Sarah said,
“This year alone our new student enrollment has increased by 65 percent,” she said. The school’s enrollment stands at just under 400 students from 25 states.
Siena Hall is “a mark of the future and provides us an opportunity to draw more amazing students like the ones we have now,” Sister Mary Sarah said.
The residential facility will be for female students while male students will remain at Seton Lodge. The next project in the school’s plans is to raise the money to build a residential hall for men next to Siena Hall, which is located behind Aquinas’ main academic building, Sister Mary Sarah said.
|Finley moves into her new dorm room at Aquinas College on Sept. 30. It is the first time in the school’s 54-year history that they have had on-campus housing.
The building’s Italianate design is a reference to the school’s namesake, St. Thomas Aquinas, who was from Italy. The exterior of the building also has similarities with Nashville’s Cathedral of the Incarnation and the St. Cecilia Motherhouse. “We wanted the Catholic architecture of the city of Nashville all tied in,” Sister Mary Sarah said.
Each of the dorm rooms in the three-story building are larger than a typical college dorm room and there is enough space to house three students to a room if that ever becomes necessary, Sister Mary Sarah said.
Each floor has a study room, a prayer room, a kitchenette and a common area. There also is a gathering space in the lobby and an outdoor deck above the lobby that can be used as a gathering space or for events.
The emphasis on common areas in the design “is an intended antidote for isolation,” Sister Mary Sarah said. The goal is to “build a community of growing in faith, of growing in friendship, of growing up together.”
More than the building itself, Sister Mary Sarah said, what matters “is the life within the building.”
The residential facility got rave reviews from the students moving in. “It felt like I came home. I wasn’t expecting that,” Ligowski said. “It felt like everything had been picked out to make us feel loved ... to make us feel welcomed.”
|Sr. Mary Cecilia Goodrum, O.P., Vice President for Student Life at Aquinas College, talks to students as they move into the school’s first on-campus dorm, Siena Hall.
Ligowski noted the size of the rooms, the comfortable furnishings, the arched windows, the modern appliances in the kitchenettes on each floor, and the outdoor deck as some of the highlights of the new building. “Everything is so elegant,” she said. “I feel like a princess.”
The building also will help strengthen the sense of community on campus, Ligowski said. “I feel like this is going to bring the students closer together.”
Ground was broken for Siena Hall just two weeks after Ligowski showed up on campus as a freshman in August 2015. “The most surprising thing was how fast it was to build it,” she said. “It seemed like we blinked and it was here.”
The students were able to watch the construction progress throughout the last year, she noted. “It was like layers going up.”
“It was an amazing thing to watch, from dust to this,” said Ligowski’s roommate, Grace Fallon, a sophomore theology major from Auburn, New York.
Even though Joshua Small, a senior from Evansville, Indiana, majoring in secondary education and history, won’t be moving into Siena Hall, he’s excited about what it means for the future of the school. “It’s going to let it grow,” he said.
“You could tell there was a lot of hard work and love put into this building,” he added.
The opening of the building was emotional for some of the people who built it as well. There was a spiritual component of the project “being part of the environment of the campus they have here at Aquinas,” said Rob Newsome, project superintendent for B.L. Harbert, the project’s construction managers.
“I’ve built all over the country, I’ve never been part of something like this,” said Newsome, who developed friendships with the students, faculty and staff.
After moving into the building, the students gathered to express their gratitude to Newsome and the Harbert team. “It’s very uplifting to see the students’ reaction,” Newsome said. “These girls were a lot more excited than we typically see. It’s made it special.”
The building was designed to last far into the future, Newsome said. “It’s a beast of a building.”
He praised the design team, led by architect Mike Hathaway of 906 Studio Architects in Franklin, Tenn. “It was a very fluid process,” Newsome said. “The design team did an outstanding job.”
The cost of constructing and furnishing the building was more than $10 million, Sister Mary Sarah said. The project included converting one of the classrooms in the main academic building into a dining hall. Currently, Bacon and Caviar Catering of Nashville is delivering meals each day to the dining hall. “The food is really good,” Sister Mary Sarah said. “It’s the same food we serve to our board.”
There are plans to build a full-service kitchen so the food can be prepared on site, Sister Mary Sarah said.
Having the new residential facility on campus “is going to allow for a lot more programming, and it will facilitate the overall growth of mind, body and spirit, which is what college is all about,” said Marissa Quinn, director of residential life at Aquinas.
Although Siena Hall is not full now, Sister Mary Sarah said, “I think we’re going to fill it pretty quickly.”
“It’s just an honor to be part of it,” Ligowski said. “It’s history in the making.”