The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth aims to break new ground in a decades-old goal to build a student center in the spring of 2023.
To do so, the college must meet its goal of raising an additional $7 million, or close to it, in time to pay for a building that would center on study and gathering space.
Student body president Jaci Tourtellott said she didn’t feel the lack of student gathering space on campus until her sophomore year, when she no longer lived in a dorm that had its own smaller version of a community space.
Although there are small pockets of space around campus where students can eat or do their homework, they are limited and not ideal for casual outings or group work.
“We don’t have space to just be students,” Tourtellott said. “We really want space because we’re all fighting for club space. We’re fighting for meeting space because a lot of clubs use classrooms and then to hold an event… we’re all fighting for two spaces.”
The college on Tuesday announced the launch of a public campaign to raise $14 million over the next two years to help fund student center construction, scholarships and other smaller emerging priorities. A silent campaign began in 2014 and since then St. Scholastica has raised nearly $50 million for these initiatives.
“We are committed to doing this from existing university resources and fundraising and not borrowing or incurring new debt in order to construct this building,” said Chris Mueller, St. Scholastica’s vice president for l academic advancement. “We want this to be a gift for the students and we don’t want them to be burdened with the cost of the building because of a long-term debt issue.”
Rumors of the college wanting to build a student center date back to the 1970s, Mueller said. But as far as he knows, the first time the goal was identified in writing as a board goal was in 2003.
The construction of a student center was one of five projects in a master plan created in 2003 and it was the only project not completed. The college’s budget for the student center is $14-17 million, and the school board has set aside $10 million for the project. The building is expected to sit on the north side of Tower Hall and next to the Mitchell Auditorium on what is currently a parking lot.
A conceptual design of the building was completed earlier this year. Because construction costs have increased during the pandemic, Mueller said the college is working with its architect and contractor to build the best center possible, while staying within its budget. Student feedback guides the design.
Key elements of the building would include gathering space for study, activity and organization, and recreation. The students suggested a space with pool or foosball tables. A large “friendly” atrium with a café, fireplace and a small performance stage would most likely also be included.
“The amount of space we have is so small that it’s taken up very quickly,” Mueller said. “We just don’t have enough options for many groups to come together and work together and we know in education these days that collaborative working is really important.”
Citing a 2019 report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mueller said well-designed student union-style facilities can halve mental health issues on a campus.
Although she may never experience the campus with a student center, Tourtellott said it would positively change the campus and the student experience.
“I really hope that happens and it inspires more people to come here and get a four-year education and sit there and grow,” she said.