Albertus Magnus Hall now John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts

Commitment to liberal arts heritage seen in center named for Archbishop John R. Roach

Albertus Magnus Hall, which for half a century served the University of St. Thomas as a center for science, has a new interior, a new purpose and a new name.

The renovated Summit Avenue landmark is now the John Roach Center for the Liberal Arts. The center is named for Archbishop John R. Roach, who retired from active ministry in 1995 after nearly 50 years of service to the church, including 20 years as archbishop and chairman of the St. Thomas board of trustees.

"Throughout most of his active priestly ministry, Archbishop Roach was connected in some way to the St. Thomas community," commented the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of the university. "Naming this beautifully renovated center in his honor recognizes those many years of service and support of liberal arts education."

Roach will be honored at the center’s dedication ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21. Alumni and friends are welcome.

The $9.8 million renovation project left the exterior of the Collegiate Gothic, Mankato stone structure only slightly changed, but the interior was gutted and rebuilt. St. Paul-based McGough Construction, which built Albertus Magnus Hall in 1947, began work on the renovation in July 1999 and finished ahead of schedule (and slightly under budget) in May 2000.

When the building opened 53 years ago it was hailed as one of the area’s leading science facilities. It originally was named for St. Albert the Great, the "Universal Doctor" who was St. Thomas Aquinas’ teacher at Cologne and Paris.

Prior to the opening of Frey Science and Engineering Center three years ago, Albertus Magnus Hall was used primarily by the Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Geology, Mathematics and Quantitative Methods and Computer Science departments, and Graduate Programs in Software.

The John Roach Center is the new home of the Dean of the College Office and the undergraduate departments of Psychology, Theology, Philosophy, English, Geography, History and Political Science. Liberal arts departments also are located in several other buildings on campus.

"The liberal arts are at the core of a St. Thomas education," explained Dr. Ralph Pearson, vice president for academic affairs. "One way of saying that symbolically and concretely is through an architectural or physical presence on campus of a building dedicated to those disciplines. Two recent examples of buildings that symbolize the importance to St. Thomas of the teaching and learning occurring in them are the Frey Science and Engineering Center and Opus Hall."

Dr. Michael Sullivan, former vice president for business affairs and chair of the John Roach Center Construction Committee, said that renovating the Summit Avenue structure also makes a statement about the university’s commitment to preserving its heritage.

"We could have demolished Albertus Magnus Hall and built a completely new building for about the same cost as the renovation," Sullivan said. The cost of renovation ran about $145 per square foot, compared with the $148 per square foot cost of Opus Hall, the School of Education home that opened a year ago on the downtown Minneapolis campus.

In many ways it would have been easier to demolish Albertus Magnus Hall and start with a new building, Sullivan said, rather than adapting an existing structure to new uses.

"No shortcuts were taken in the new construction," Pearson said. "The work is high quality, like that found in the new science and education buildings and elsewhere on campus. It is a renovation that reflects St. Thomas."

"We wanted to preserve the beauty of the hall," said Dr. Judith Dwyer, executive vice president. "It is a landmark, and we are very sensitive to the aesthetic issues involved in the project."

While the beauty was retained, the building now accommodates levels of technology that were never dreamed of 50 years ago. Behind the new interior walls are miles of wires and cables that support communications and audiovisual equipment.

The building’s new residents began moving in shortly after spring commencement exercises; they have the summer to get settled before classes start this fall. Here’s where the departments are located:

Lower (basement) level — The Psychology Department, formerly in the basement of Foley Theater, occupies the entire level, including the rooms and offices near the tunnel leading to the library. The lower level has classrooms, a conference room and many offices and labs.

First floor — The Dean of the College Office, formerly in Aquinas Hall, is located on the first floor’s southwest corner. The remainder of the floor, with the exception of the large, semicircular lecture hall at the east end of the building, is home to the Theology Department, formerly located in Aquinas Hall and a building at Grand Avenue and Finn Street.

When you stand on Summit Avenue and face the landmark Arches, you see the president’s office in Aquinas Hall on your left, and the dean’s office in the John Roach Center on your right. "We thought it was important to have the dean’s office in this center for the liberal arts," Pearson said.

The amphitheater-like Room 108 will continue to be used as a classroom and lecture hall but it has been renovated from top to bottom. It has seating for 202, which is 60 less than before, but the seats and their folding desk arms are larger and more comfortable. The room has a new teaching station, complete with a wet sink for science lectures, and all new electronics.

The ground-level greenhouse at the building’s east end was retained and is used to raise the thousands of plants that grace campus flower beds.

Second floor — This is home to the Philosophy Department, formerly in Aquinas Hall; the floor has faculty offices and classrooms.

Third floor — This houses the entire English Department and the Writing Center. Much of the department had been located in a remodeled apartment building on Finn Street, and some faculty had been in a house on Cleveland Avenue.

Fourth floor — Located here are the Geography, History and Political Science departments. The floor has offices, classrooms, conference and seminar rooms, and a geography lab.

The fourth floor once had been an unfinished attic and relatively was unused, except for storage. It first was remodeled into mostly small offices in the 1980s. The main architectural change to the outside of the building was the addition of fourth-floor windows, which had to be approved by the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission.

The building is air-conditioned and mechanical cooling components were installed on the building’s flat roof. Slanted roof panels that are seen from the street were extended several feet to help conceal the added mechanical components.

As with most new construction at St. Thomas, a portion of the cost is dedicated to public art. Dr. Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell, a member of the university’s Art History Department and the John Roach Center Art Committee, said plans have been made to commission an outdoor sculpture that will honor women’s contributions to the liberal arts and humanities.

The sculpture, still in the design stages, should be completed during the 2001-2002 academic year. It will be located in the lower quadrangle and on the north side of the John Roach Center.

Inside, 18 prints, paintings and drawings by contemporary artists will be on display. The works are owned by the university and some have been acquired through the annual Sacred Arts Festival.

The renovation project brought back a lot of memories for at least three members of McGough Construction. Three McGough brothers — Charlie, 81, Leo, 79, and Larry, 70 — all worked on the original Albertus Magnus Hall. While they have for the most part passed on the reins to the fifth generation of McGough contractors, they still are associated with the company and followed the renovation progress.

Larry, a College of St. Thomas graduate, was a student at St. Thomas Academy (high school) when he would show up after school to help lay bricks for what was to become the new science building.

He was pleased to see the renovation. "Structurally, it’s a very good building; it’s solid. They’ve done an excellent job with the renovation," Larry said. "We had some good people working on it, both times."