Planned Sitzmann Hall addition gets nod from neighborhood advisory committee

Sitzmann Hall, now: This architectural rendering represents the hall's current view, looking southwest.

Sitzmann Hall, after: This drawing shows how the building will look after an addition and renovations.

Planned Sitzmann Hall addition gets nod from neighborhood advisory committee

St. Thomas is proposing to build an addition next year to Sitzmann Hall, the home of the Center for Catholic Studies at 2055 Summit Ave.

The addition will consist of a north wing with offices, a classroom, a chapel, support spaces and an elevator to serve all floors. Portions of the existing third floor and low-ceiling attic will be redesigned and renovated to increase interior heights and decrease the areas where the roof slope takes up valuable floor area.

Catholic Studies moved into the building, previously known as Chiuminatto Hall and occupied by the Department of Music, in 2003. Subsequent program growth has led to overcrowded working conditions, said Dr. Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies.

“The addition will give us the breathing space that we need for faculty and staff offices,” he said, “as well as provide additional gathering spaces for Masses, classes, small lectures and receptions.”

City approval is needed for the project. The St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission will review the plans this fall because Sitzmann is in a historic district, and the St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections will conduct a site plan review. St. Thomas hopes to begin construction next spring and move into the new space in the fall.

The West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee (WSNAC), which consists of representatives from St. Thomas and four neighborhood organizations, voted unanimously on Sept. 9 to support the project. St. Thomas also will seek support from the Union Park Community Council, which represents the Merriam Park neighborhood north of Summit.

The $3.5 million, 4700-square-foot expansion would be paid for entirely by contributions from Catholic Studies benefactors.

The hall's new look from Cleveland Avenue.

As part of the project, St. Thomas would eliminate the three-car driveway and parking area off Cleveland and would rebuild the brick walls along Cleveland and the east-west alley on the north end of the property.

“The design not only provides badly needed additional space,” said Kurt Dale, an architect with Anderson Dale Architects of West St. Paul, “but it also preserves the historic character of the building’s Summit Avenue façade and is sensitive to the scale and character of the neighborhood.”

WSNAC support came after lengthy discussions over concerns that the project, while within the campus boundary, would violate the spirit of the city-approved 2004 Conditional Use Permit that governs building issues at St. Thomas. The CUP does not contain language that would prohibit the addition, but some WSNAC members and neighbors have said it should not occur because Sitzmann is in a residential neighborhood.

Concerns also were expressed about other potential building projects on the four campus properties that St. Thomas owns east of Cleveland: Sitzmann, Morrison House (the president’s residence) at 2045 Summit and buildings occupied by the International Education Department at 44 N. Cleveland and the Art History Department at 2057 Portland.

St. Thomas received WSNAC support after pledging there would be no further expansion on the Sitzmann site after the 2009 addition and no expansion at 2057 Portland. The university would be allowed to replace the 44 N. Cleveland building on the existing footprint and at the existing height, should that replacement ever need to occur. A ground-level addition to Morrison House also would be allowed, although there are no plans for such an addition at this time.

Sitzmann Hall, a Georgian Revival building, was constructed in 1927 as a single-family house. St. Thomas acquired the house in 1943, used it for classes and music lessons and named it for Dr. Anthony Chiuminatto, Music Department chairman from 1946 to 1973. The building was renovated for Catholic Studies in 2002-2003 and named for Eugene and Faye Sitzmann of St. Paul, who are benefactors of the program.

Here's a drawing of Sitzmann Hall's new courtyard (looking west).