Law school construction finally under way



Thomas Celona

Villanova University School of Law celebrated the beginning of construction on its new facility with a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 19.

“This is an important day for not only the law school but the University as well,” University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., said at the ceremony.

Beginning at 1 p.m. amid drizzly conditions, University faculty and staff gathered at the construction site for the ceremony. It began with a faculty procession led by bagpipe players, which was soon followed by a similar student procession led by pipe players. The students carried banners representing the law school’s various student groups.

Rev. Joseph Calderone, O.S.A., said a blessing over the project, followed by remarks by both Donohue and Mark Sargent, dean of the School of Law.

Former University President Rev. Edmund Dobbin., O.S.A., was also in attendance, and Sargent thanked both him and Donohue for their efforts to make the dream of a new facility a reality.

Sargent noted that the idea for a new building has been talked about for around 10 years, with various locations considered before finally settling on one.

The new building, which has yet to be named, will be built adjacent to Garey Hall, which currently houses the School of Law. Once construction is complete, the building will be the home of all law school offices, facilities and classrooms.

“The main difference is size,” Sargent said, comparing Garey Hall and the future facility.

The new building will be 174,000 square feet, around 70,000 square feet larger than what Sargent termed the “grossly inadequate” size of Garey Hall.

“We have one of the smallest buildings in the country for schools of our size,” Sargent said. “We couldn’t continue in this building because it’s not suited to a modern law school.”

Sargent also noted that some of the law school programs operate out of converted locker rooms or trailers, facts that could have posed long-term problems.

“In the long run, we wouldn’t have met minimum accreditation,” he said.

The new facility will feature more classrooms and public space, along with increased seating in the library. Sargent also noted that the building will include several amenities for students, including modern technology, improved dining facilities and lockers for all students. Sargent said he hopes that all of these improvements will make the student experience more positive.

Sargent also said that this expansion will help the University attract the nation’s best students, noting that they deserve the best facilities in return for the tuition they pay.

The project is being funded both by donations given as part of the ongoing Campaign for Villanova Law and bond offerings and will cost $35 million, according to Sargent.

Once the School of Law transfers operations to the new facility, Garey Hall will be put to other academic uses.

“The principle plan is to convert [Garey Hall] into undergraduate classrooms,” Sargent said.

Sargent currently anticipates that law school faculty and staff will be able to move into the new building in August of 2009 and that it will be ready for the start of the fall 2009 semester.

This projected opening is a relief for University administrators after an appeal by neighborhood residents threatened the timeline for construction.

The design for the new building, which was drawn up in 2005, exceeded Radnor Township’s building codes that limit construction projects to three stories and 160 feet in length. At a Jan. 19, 2006 meeting of the Radnor Township Zoning Hearing Board, Villanova was granted building variances to exceed the building codes despite protests from area residents.

A group of neighbors from Broughton Lane and County Line Road expressed concerns about the planned construction, which they submitted to the University in a letter written by area resident Andrew McGregor. Their two main concerns were the physical presence and appearance of the proposed building and issues of traffic management and safety in the area.

After the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision, neighbors appealed the decision to the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas in March of this year. The court denied the residents’ appeal.

The residents then filed a second appeal with the Commonwealth Court, and the University was not allowed to begin with construction until the appeal was heard. However, Ken Valosky, vice president for University administration and finance, was able to negotiate a settlement with residents.

“I’m delighted that it’s been resolved,” Sargent said. “It allows us to stay on target, which is crucial because time is money.”

Despite the two-year appeal process, construction has barely been delayed.

“We actually lost only a month,” Sargent said.

With the settlement reached, the University was free to go ahead with construction.

Despite the rain, those present at the ceremony exuded a positive attitude.

“Somewhere, the sun is shining on this,” Donohue said.