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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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University updates its master plan

If all goes as planned — and university officials insist that it will, that it has to in order for the university to stay competitive — St. Joe’s Hawk Hill campus will look very different in about five years.

The university owes it to past, present and future students and families to move forward, Cheryl McConnell, Ph.D., interim president of St. Joe’s, told an audience gathered to hear about the university’s latest master plan, SOAR, at a Nov. 16 event in the Cardinal Foley Center. 

“Our bold vision requires collective energy, and that collective energy starts here,” McConnell said. “Nothing is more important than the energy that we put into this and our ability to succeed.”

The latest plan includes projects under way or starting soon: construction of a City Avenue pedestrian underpass that began in September 2022 and is slated for completion in December 2023; and renovations to O’Pake Recreation Center that will begin in January 2023 and be completed in summer 2024. Renovations to Hagan Arena will also begin in 2023 and take about 18 months to complete.

Renovations to the Campion Dining Hall will start and finish summer 2023, a temporary fix until a new Campion Student Center is built where Lafarge and Sourin halls currently stand. Those changes are interlocked. First, a new residence hall will be built on the corner of City and Cardinal avenues. That will be completed by 2027, McConnell said. Then, Lafarge and Sourin will come down to make way for the new student center, which should be completed by 2028.

Also next summer, work is set to begin on the Science Center, primarily to the chemistry labs, in order to prepare for the university to host all first-year students on Hawk Hill beginning fall 2023, McConnell said. But there will also be additional renovations to the Science Center eventually, in order to ensure that “the teaching and the research goes together,” she added.

“It’s not okay to have University City faculty come here and teach and then go to University City for their research labs,” McConnell said. 

McConnell said a new Kinney Center wing attached to Merion Hall doesn’t have a timeline, yet, as funding for the project continues to be secured.

“We will not start things until it’s totally funded and 50% of the cash is in hand,” McConnell said. “That is prudent fiscal planning. Estimated time is 18 months. We’ve already been collaborating with occupational therapy and physical therapy to have spaces designed to provide them with the kind of collaboration with those new programs and to serve the students and to provide clinical affiliations for them.”

McConnell addressed any skepticism university community members may feel about the likelihood that all of these changes will happen. She assured them they would.

“Our current and future students can really depend on us to do this right, so all of this energy and all of this focus exists in a much, much more competitive environment than I have ever seen in my 30 years of leadership in higher education,” McConnell said. 

McConnell said because of this competitive environment, reimagining and reprioritizing the master plan for Hawk Hill is not a luxury but an imperative.

“We hear you,” McConnell said. “We hear you, our prospective students. We hear our current students. We know how you feel about the O’Pake Recreation Center. We know how you feel about the student dining experience in Campion. I want you to know that we hear you and that we agree that we can and should do better.”

A Nov. 1 Philadelphia Inquirer article reported that the university is looking to borrow $200 million for construction of new facilities on the Hawk Hill campus. The Inquirer article also said St. Joe’s is “in discussions to sell or lease facilities at the former University of the Sciences campus.”

When asked if decisions had been made about which buildings will be leased or sold, Kelly Welsh ’05, assistant vice president of communications in the Office of Marketing and Communications, said no decisions have been made and the university is “researching the market interest and possible transactions for University City.”

David R. Beaupré, senior vice president of finance and administration and treasurer, who also spoke at the Nov. 16 event, said when St. Joe’s acquired USciences on June 1, they also acquired the school’s nearly $170 million debt. Selling that debt — which St. Joe’s has done — will go to pay off what USciences owed as well as to fund future projects. 

Pointing to a slide that listed all of the investors in the sold debt, Beaupré said the news is positive. 

“The key takeaway on this page is that some very, very smart people, people who are responsible for investing billions of dollars, are invested in us,” Beaupré said. “They’re investing in us because they believe in us.”

When asked how meeting future enrollment projections impact the university’s ability to fulfill its master plans, Welsh said the master plan will be funded “through a combination of debt financing and philanthropy.”

Alexandra Kissinger, assistant athletic director of campus recreation, attended the SOAR event and said she is especially looking forward to the O’Pake renovation.

“The plans look fantastic, and I’m looking forward to the next few years at SJU,” Kissinger said in response to written questions from The Hawk.

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Allie Miller
Allie Miller, Editor-in-Chief
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