After the construction fences around the Anderson Student Center came down one afternoon in mid-November, I began to notice an interesting phenomenon.
The center wouldn’t open for two months, yet people kept walking up to and around it. They would cross Cretin or Summit avenues from the south campus, take the new sidewalk past the University of St. Thomas stone marker and peer into windows. They would step back and gaze along the Summit wing, from right to left and back again.
My sense is that they were in awe, and I say that only because I, too, am in awe of this incredible new building.
I was in awe in May 2010 when the crews from Opus began digging a big hole on the spot where only weeks earlier hundreds of cars were parked. That corner had been a parking lot, in one size or another, since 1932.
I was in awe in the fall of 2010, when the steel structure sprung into place for the new center. We held a "topping off" ceremony that November, signed a 26-foot, 312-pound steel beam painted half purple (for St. Thomas) and half blue (for Opus) and watched as the beam was hoisted into place on the northwest peak of the building.
And I was in awe whenever I walked or drove by the building as masons began to hang our signature Kasota limestone, shingle the roof and install windows. Every day, it seemed, another section was finished regardless of how cold it was, and then suddenly the exterior was complete and I could only marvel at how quickly the process had moved along.
Now that the building is open and teeming with students, I have to think hard to remember what that corner looked like when it was a 400-car parking lot flanked on the east end by O’Shaughnessy Hall. That wasn’t very long ago, but my memory seems to be failing me. It may just be age, or it may be that the student center is such a perfect fit that it seems like it has been there forever.
Jane Canney, our vice president for student affairs, likes to call the student center the "heart of the campus" and our "living room." I think those are perfect descriptions. It bustles with activity - the place where students hang out with friends or just take a break from the stresses of class and work. They go there to dine, too, of course, so maybe the center also is our kitchen!
I also like the description from Mike Orth, executive vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government. In his Final Thoughts essay (Page 65), he calls the student center "magical" because that was the only word that came to mind when he returned to campus last September and walked through the expanded lower quadrangle and the John P. Monahan Plaza for the first time.
"Welcome to the new St. Thomas," he told a friend.
New, yes, but with a wise appreciation for more than 125 years of history. All you have to do is stand on Monahan Plaza and look to your right to see Aquinas Hall, our first Collegiate Gothic building (1931), or walk to the north end of campus and check out venerable Ireland Hall (1912) or the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas (1918), one of the most beautiful college chapels around. There is plenty of the new and the old.
And I, for one, am in awe of all of it every day.