A comfortable place for students to study, larger rooms and a bigger chapel are some of the expected benefits of the Sitzmann Hall renovation.
Sitzmann Hall, built in the 1920s and located on the corner of Summit and Cleveland Avenues, was originally constructed as a family residence, much like the rest of the stately homes that line Summit. In the ’40s, the building was used as a dormitory for St. Thomas Academy and later as a fine arts and music building for St. Thomas.
In 2003, the Center for Catholic Studies moved into Sitzmann Hall, which was named after the couple who donated $1.25 million to convert the hall into a space for the center. The building was renovated but, according to Center for Catholic Studies director Don Briel, there were some problems with the building.
“The [rooms] on the third floor, many were servants’ rooms,” Briel said. “They were very small and compact. When we moved into the building, we simply fitted offices into them, and they were never really adequate spaces.”
The building was not fully handicap accessible, there was no insulation and there were no classrooms, Briel said. So plans were drawn up for a second, more extensive renovation, with an estimated cost of $4.2 million. The funding for the project came entirely from private donations.
“[The Sitzmanns] have made another major contribution to the building, but there are a number of families associated with St. Thomas and a number of small donors as well,” Briel said.
Construction for the second renovation began May 8 and should be complete in late October. The project has stayed under budget and on schedule, partly due to the economic downturn that has made the market more competitive and driven down construction costs, Briel said.
The previous 7,800 square feet that made up the house will be nearly doubled once the project is complete. The renovation will add 4,300 square feet and free an additional 2,200 square feet of formerly unusable rooms. During the renovation, Catholic studies faculty and staff have been relocated to offices in McNeely Hall and other spaces on campus. A few have even been working from home.
“It’s going to be wonderful for the first time to have a space that’s really appropriate for the needs of the Center for Catholic Studies,” Briel said. “[The renovation] reflected the growth and the number of students and programs under Catholic studies’ direction.”
There are approximately 300 Catholic studies majors and the number has been steadily growing each year, Briel said. Sitzmann Hall is also home to a variety of programs and hosts many Catholic Studies-related events that require space in the hall.
A graduate student center, an elevator for handicap accessibility, a seminar room, a classroom and office space for professors will also be added to the Center.
Students are especially excited about the student common area on the lower level, which is designed to be a place to gather and study after classes.
“It’ll be a lot more useable,” said junior Jeffrey Stocker, a Catholic studies major. “I didn’t really use [Sitzmann Hall] in the past but now that I’m actually going to class there, I can see myself using it as a study space to do my homework.”
Another aspect of the renovation that students are looking forward to is the larger chapel, which will be three times larger than before. The old chapel used to seat 15, but the new chapel has room for 32 people and can squeeze in 48 people with folding chairs. The chapel will showcase century-old stained-glass windows. The windows will be arriving from a church outside Boston.
“I’m most excited for the new chapel,” senior Catholic studies major Gregory Crane said. “It will be a nice quiet place to pray and it will be in the center of the building to remind us that faith is at the center of everything we do.”
The exterior is getting a makeover as well, with a new terraced patio, tile roof and Marian grotto surrounded by a garden. Every change to the building was carefully approved since Sitzmann Hall is on the Historical Preservation Commission list, Briel said.
“We had to ensure that the brick is actually matched with the limestone, and the tile roof is coordinated … with the original character of the building,” he said. “It’s very harmonious from an architectural point of view. It’s going to be a beautiful addition to the campus.”
Open houses will be held after the construction is complete, and will be open to the public. The new addition will be formally dedicated on Nov. 30 and Archbishop John Nienstedt will celebrate Mass in the chapel.
Katie Broadwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org