|Aquinas College broke ground on Sienna Hall, a new $9 million residence hall for women on Friday, Aug. 28. Sienna Hall, which will accommodate 99 students, will be the first on-campus residence hall in the college’s 54-year history. Construction is expected to be completed next summer. Above, Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, O.P., Aquinas’ president, welcomes the crowd to the ceremony. Listening is Bishop David Choby. A drawing of Siena Hall is in the background. Photos by Andy Telli. See more photos at www.dioceseofnashville.com/photoalbums/aquinas-starts-construction-of-new-residence-hall
A long-held dream for Aquinas College came to life on Friday, Aug. 28, when school officials broke ground for Siena Hall, a new $9 million women’s residence hall.
It will be the first on-campus residence hall for students in the school’s 54-year history.
“Having an on campus residence hall has been a dream for a long, long time,” said Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, O.P., president of Aquinas. “It changes everything and allows us to continue to grow a vibrant residential life here on campus.”
For the last three years, Aquinas has used Seton Lodge at Saint Thomas West Hospital next door to the campus to house students. More than 60 male and female students are living in Seton Lodge this year, Sister Mary Sarah said.
Siena Hall, which will be able to house up to 99 women students, will be 44,000 square feet and three and one-half stories. It will be built behind the current academic building at Aquinas. Construction is expected to take 11½ months, which would mean it should be ready for the start of the next academic year.
Male students will continue to be housed at Seton Lodge, Sister Mary Sarah said. Long range plans call for the construction of a men’s residence hall on campus sometime in the future.
Having residence halls has already allowed Aquinas to broaden its recruiting net. With residence halls, the school is in a better position to recruit students from outside Nashville and from across the country. Currently, the school has students from 22 states, Sister Mary Sarah said.
Siena Hall will only strengthen that appeal to students from out of state, she said. “It’s a tremendous recruiting tool.”
Among the students who would be expected to move into Siena Hall next year is Haylee Weiss, a freshman this year from Indianapolis.
“It’s so exciting. I’ve only been here a week and we’re building a new dorm,” said Weiss, who is majoring in elementary education. “It’s going to be amazing.”
People had been talking about the new residence hall before the groundbreaking, said Weiss, who moved into Seton Lodge a week earlier. “Within my first hour here the Sisters were showing me the master plan of the huge campus this is going to turn into,” Weiss said. “It’s such a blessing.”
Siena Hall is part of a master plan for the campus on Harding Pike. Besides another residence hall for men, the master plan includes a new academic building and renovating the current academic building for use as a student center.
Construction of the Siena Hall is part of the first phase of implementing the master plan.
The hall will include enough suite-style rooms, with two rooms sharing a bathroom, to house up to 99 residents. It also will feature study rooms, prayer rooms, a laundry room, storm shelter, a large entrance lobby, and a patio on the roof of the entrance lobby, said Mike Hathaway of 906 Studio Architects of Franklin, who designed the building.
The project also will include renovating a portion of the current academic building next to the new residence hall as a dining hall, Hathaway said.
Sister Mary Sarah told the architect she wanted the new residence hall to be built in a style reflective of St. Thomas Aquinas, the school’s namesake, Hathaway said. Because St. Thomas Aquinas was born in Italy and Aquinas offers a study abroad program at its satellite campus in Bracciano, Italy, near Rome, Hathaway decided to design the building in the Italianate style. He looked to the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, which was modeled on a church in Rome, for inspiration for several design details for Siena Hall, including yellow brick.
To pay for the construction of Siena Hall and other improvements to the campus, Aquinas has launched “Ignite,” a five-year, $30 million capital campaign. The money will be used for a wide variety of programs and projects, including dedicated professorships, scholarships, faculty development, upgrades to the Castello Nursing Simulation Center that the college’s School of Nursing operates at Saint Thomas West Hospital, the study abroad program, a new chapel and expansion of the library, among others.
“For years Aquinas conceptually had ideas for expansion that have come and gone,” said Andrew Shafer, vice president for advancement at Aquinas. “Now that it’s happening, it really formalizes the strategic plan. It helps the campaign seem more realistic and help the vision to come alive.
“People want to support a project that is ambitious but attainable,” Shafer said. “This project fits that bill.”
Currently, the campaign is in a private phase and has raised $7 million, which is almost 25 percent of the goal, Shafer said. Aquinas will continue to contact potential donors but probably will wait until the campaign reaches 40 percent or 50 percent of the goal before launching the public phase of the campaign, he said.
Work on Siena Hall began on Tuesday, Sept. 1. The contractor for the project is BL Halbert International, which is based in Birmingham, Alabama, and has offices in Nashville.
“We are honored to play a role in the delivery of a transformative project for such a highly-regarded institution,” said Dan Price, vice president of BL Halbert. “Our corporate values are aligned with the core principles of Aquinas College, and we are privileged to help carry its mission forward.”
The groundbreaking ceremony began with a Mass of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by Bishop David Choby. The name of the hall was revealed during the groundbreaking ceremony, which was followed by a reception.
“The groundbreaking for the new residence hall represents a major milestone for Aquinas College as a part of the comprehensive plan for the growth of the college,” said Sister Mary Sarah. “We are excited about the beautiful living space this will provide for our students and are grateful to our friends and benefactors who helped to make the new residence hall possible.”
Seton Hall will be the first new building constructed on campus in 39 years.
Aquinas, which is owned and operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, was established in 1961. It currently has 385 students and has four programs of study, including nursing, education, business and arts and sciences. It also operates a satellite campus at Villagio Betania in Bracciano, a lakeside Medieval castle town.
Over the years, Aquinas’ leaders have considered several options for expanding the campus and building residence halls, including the purchase of the Welch College campus on Harding Pike, but all those options fell through.
“It was God’s time,” Sister Mary Sarah said of the start of construction for Siena Hall. “It’s really God’s timing.”
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