The former Common Ground house, which was closed last spring because of safety concerns and overdue repairs, is currently under renovation.
There is no decision yet on what the house will be used for, according to Jacob Cunningham, VISION director.
Some students hope the Common Ground house, located at 2154 Summit Ave., will not be closed for good.
“I truly hope the house will be put to use in a way that will provide students with a sense of comfort,” said junior and VISION leader Meg Veitenheimer. “The community that was able to grow and thrive within the atmosphere of Common Ground was one that personally gave me a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment, and I really hope that the house can continue to be a place where St. Thomas students can come together to connect with one another.”
Junior Alena Johnson said she has the same hopes for the house in the future.
“One of the reasons that made my year last year so wonderful was Common Ground and everything that has to do with that,” she said. “If it can positively impact somebody like it has for me, I would hope that it would be able to do that for other people.”
Physical Plant Associate Vice President for Facilities Gerald Anderley said the house, founded in 1997 by Campus Ministry, closed for “general cleanup and renovation of the facility.”
“Over the course of time, very little maintenance was done to this house, and it fell into disrepair,” Anderley said. The bathrooms and upper floors are being renovated and new fixtures including smoke detectors and fire alarm systems will be installed to meet fire code requirements.
Cunningham said the house was closed because Campus Ministry had trouble keeping up with the costly repairs.
“It is an old house and the last couple years we had residents living there, things really started to go,” Cunningham said. “We had conversations with the Physical Plant and Public Safety and made the decision that it wasn’t safe to have residents living there in the condition it was in.”
A place of growth
The house was open to students who wanted “to drop by and share in the good living,” according to the Common Ground website. Students used the house to cook meals, hold meetings, study, meditate and spend time with friends. The house was also used as housing for VISION leaders and would trade off between being a four-person male residence and a four-person female residence.
Veitenheimer said she viewed the Common Ground house as an influential factor in her personal growth.
“I lived in the house with three VISION student leader women, and we all flourished together throughout our time in the house,” she said.
The Common Ground house was a “second home” to junior and VISION leader Jess Novak.
“I was introduced [to the house] through VISION and it had evolved into something much more: a gathering place, the home of my friends, a safe meeting space,” she said.
Johnson also said she viewed the Common Ground house as a second home and visited it frequently.
“I lived off campus a pretty good ways away, so when I would be on South Campus and I wouldn’t want to go all the way home, I would just go there and crash on the couch,” she said. “They’d always have the door unlocked and they never had any problems with that. It provided me with a place to go that I always knew I could have.”
Many students enjoyed the diversity that the Common Ground house represented.
“Common Ground’s open-door policy often brought in people from the St. Thomas community together, and it was extremely rewarding to be involved in this aspect of intentional living,” Veitenheimer said.
Closing the door
Many students said they think closing the house is a significant loss for the St. Thomas community.
“The things that Common Ground offered as a meeting space, a VISION house, and simply a place to hang out are things that cannot be found anywhere else: undeniable safety, constant openness and comfort, an overwhelming sense of welcoming, and the warmth of a home,” Novak said.
“When I found out that the place isn’t Common Ground anymore, it was devastating just because it’s like taking a gem away from campus,” she said. “It provided something so different than anything else that’s provided on campus.”
Cunningham said closing Common Ground “was of course a hard decision as the house had been a great part of Campus Ministry and served many groups well as a homey meeting space.”
But he said he is optimistic about future developments.
“We are sad to see [Common Ground] go but also excited for all the growth in our programs and ministries,” he said. “With the new Anderson Student Center coming next year, there will be many places for students to meet, relax and hang out.”
Rebecca Omastiak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.