Construction on campus: Building a New Nova


Courtesy of Kaitlin O'Sullivan/The Villanovan

The bridge across Lancaster Ave. is currently under construction.

Jack Judge

Since May 2011, the University has experienced major and historic construction projects as part of the “Transformation of the Campus Landscape” project. The central focus of this initiative is to improve the quality of life for Villanova community members and enhance the visitor experience. This effort is the product of a large operation to create “a carefully-designed campus core that is highly integrated, vehicle-free, pedestrian-friendly, more accessible to people with different mobility needs and more aesthetically beautiful,” as explained by the project’s official website. This implementation of the University’s Strategic Plan and Campus Master Plan is the result of extensive research and student feedback that has largely driven the direction of the multitude of renovations.

The fourth phase of this project commenced this past summer and welcomed students back to school with orange construction nets, fences and a circuitous route to Tolentine Hall. “While construction projects can be disruptive and cause temporary changes to your normal routines, it is important to remember that these short-term inconveniences will benefit Villanova for generations to come,” University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D, said. In that same statement, Rev. Donohue recognized and thanked the Office of Facilities Management for their persistence and dedication to the massive undertaking.

Starting from Bartley, working through the quad towards the Connelly Center, to the Oreo and now Mendel field, one of the central focus points for this comprehensive campus masterplan is “making the campus more accessible and improving the outdoor space” with “purposeful pathways” instead of an amalgamation of haphazard walkways, said Robert Morro, Vice President for Facilities Management and father of current student Rob Morro ’20. A critical aspect that Morro mentions is the separation of pedestrian and vehicular walkways. Although parking has been pushed to the perimeter of campus, Morro says that there is a tradeoff with the extra distance to campus. The middle of campus is now home to tremendous pedestrian friendly access, accommodating the needs of differently abled students. He credits architect Mark Thompson for transforming previous inhospitable areas of campus, such as the walkway between Vasey Hall and the Connelly Center, into “outdoor living rooms” where people can come together and engage in their surroundings. Morro focuses on purpose and connectivity in his work and collaboration with his team despite facing some formidable difficulties. 

The challenges have been threefold, according to Morro, with the first issue involved funding. Morro details that the project had to be spread out because of the magnitude and scope of the funding required. Second, his office takes into account the inconvenience that the construction poses to students as he wants to alleviate the disruption that accompanies the projects, such as the current road in front of Tolentine Hall. The third challenge that Morro mentions is coordinating with ongoing operations, such as the Pavilion construction. “We cannot just shut down the Pavilion to renovate it,” said Morro. “The basketball teams, men and women, have to schedule their games— they start that at least a year or two in advance… there are a lot of logistics that go into individual projects as well as tying them together. He cites a five year plan that gets revised and evaluated every August/September to help address the logistical difficulties that organizations such as intramurals, graduations, ROTC and even weddings. As of now, any future bride that wishes to be married in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church immediately encounters a note on the registry that informs them there will be construction in front of the Church. The construction on Mendel Field is currently planned to be completed in two phases: the first from May 2017—November 2017 and the second will begin in May 2018—November 2018. As of now the main road to Tolentine is set to reopen this November. The long term changes to Mendel field details creating a circular walkway around Mendel Field and constructing three new plazas at the Monastery, John Barry and Old Falvey.

Another monumental project underway is the Lancaster Avenue construction, specifically the Bridge at St. Thomas of Villanova Church, new Residence Halls and the Performing Arts Center. Although it is currently occupied by rebar and workers adorned in white helmets and orange vests, the rendered images of the construction feature collegiate Gothic style residential housing, University-operated student-centric retail, the Performing Arts Center and a pedestrian bridge. For the retail space, the plans call for a Villanova apparel shop, convenience store and a Bistro. The Performing Arts Center will feature academic and performance space to support the University’s theatre, studio arts and music activities programs. Last week, with the cooperation and coordination of the Radnor Police Department, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and other vital corresponding parties to the project, a two hundred and fifty ton crane put in place the basic structure of the bridge connecting the Wildcat Path to Main Campus in roughly an hour and a half. Marilou Smith, Senior Project Manager in Facilities Management, says that the bridge felt like the missing part to campus. Smith, who is one of many Villanova graduates in her family including her grandfather, emphasized how the bridge marks a recognizable entrance to the University as cars pass under it. The bridge will be decorated with stone panels and the Villanova seal along with ornamental casts on top of the bridge.

As more progress is made every day, the effort of years of planning comes closer to completion. “I am amazed every time I drive by it,” said Chris Kovolski, Assistant Vice President of Government Relations and External Relations. Kovoloski, also a graduate of the University, puts the current status of construction in perspective as he reflects on the five years of planning and group effort that were necessary before a shovel broke ground. “As an alumnus, I took a lot away from Villanova and I often think what can I do to give back. [This project] is a great way,” said Kovolski. Much work is still to be done. However, both Smith and Kovolski stress how purposeful and the magnitude of teamwork necessary to accomplish the scope of this project. Kovoloski specifically credits Fr. Peter Donohue with the tremendous vision and team that he has helped assemble during this comprehensive construction process.

Other projects included in this plan are the Lower Level of M-2 Parking Garage and the work at the University station on West Campus by SEPTA to elevate the train platform, add stormwater management controls, reorganize parking and build a new tunnel. This project continues this fall, but work on the tunnel access ramps will switch from the Mendel Hall side to the Law School side in September. The tunnel is scheduled to re-open at the end of this calendar year, according to a press release from the Office of the University President.

These projects require extensive amounts of effort, planning and time. Nonetheless, new students such as Taryn Ashby ’21 are excited. “Personally I was happy to see the campus getting new additions that will be used in the next four years of my college experience. I was happily surprised” said Ashby. She continued to say that “the only bad thing about the construction was trying to find the correct routes the first week as a freshman.” Like many of the other freshmen, Ashby is excited for the Bridge as well as the new Residence Halls that will be completed in time for her and her classmates senior year. For students, such as Zach Swenson ’18, the feelings are more intricate. “Sure the construction makes campus life slightly inconvenient, but I understand that these changes are being made in the interest of further enhancing the Villanova experience for future students, faculty and visitors,” he said. Swenson continued to reflect, that, “While I won’t see all the changes come to life while I’m a student here, I am excited to see Villanova when I come back for reunions, homecoming and Parents’ Weekend when my kids are here.”

Tradition and history will complement the new additions to the campus. However, it is evident that the new Villanova experience is upon us. This historic and unprecedented ten year comprehensive renovation plan will come to a close in November 2018. However, there are preliminary ideas that are being considered to be addressed in the future. 

“We are always looking to improve the look and feel of our campus and the accessibility,” Morro said. Despite no official designs, areas such as the ramps and stairs in front of the St. Augustine Center, space in between Garey Hall and the Law School and some aspects of West Campus serve as potential targets for future work.

One will no longer drive by the University, one will drive through it.