New SSA multipurpose building gets historic nod
St. Scholastica Academy moved a step closer to a major campus improvement April 8 when the Covington Historic District Commission voted unanimously to grant a certificate of appropriateness for a 56,000-square-foot multipurpose building and gymnasium.
“I am overwhelmed by the support in our SSA community, and not just from the parents and the students here but from alumnae and parents of alums and people within the community who know us,” principal Mary Kathryn Villere said after the vote in a packed chamber. “It was phenomenal.”
The hearing was filled with SSA supporters as well as members of the “We Love Historic Covington” neighborhood group, which objects to the scale of the project on the edge of the historic district.
Villere was the first of many speakers at the hearing, explaining the need for the new construction.
“This will support the different ways we teach students now,” she said. “Education has certainly changed.”
Her thoughts were echoed by Dominican Father Charles Latour, principal of Archbishop Hannan High in Covington, who spoke in support of the SSA proposal.
“Education today requires buildings that can adapt to what we need,” he said, “such as group learning and robotics.” He added that the all-girls Catholic school is an asset to the community.
“St. Scholastica produces young women who come back to Covington and make a difference,” he said.
Enhance girls’ education
Msgr. Frank Giroir, school chaplain and pastor at St. Anselm in Madisonville, also spoke in support of the project.
“I value the education of women,” he said. “And I know this project will enhance that.”
Villere said that SSA is committed to acting as a good neighbor, and she is hopeful that once the building is completed, the residents nearby will be pleased.
“I think once it gets built and they see the greenery that is there, the tree canopy that will surround the building and acts as a buffer, they will recognize that it is a beautiful thing.”
Architect Pierre Theriot described the new buildings as echoing the design of Lasalle Hall and Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel on the campus.
“This will renew SSA’s architectural language,” he said.
Dr. Jan Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was happy to hear that the project could move forward.
“It is wonderful to see St. Scholastica Academy planning for the future,” Lancaster said. “This new project will go far in forming young women in our world and in our church. As a Catholic school, I am certain that SSA will do everything it can to be a good neighbor.”
The project, designed by Holly & Smith Architects, will be built in two phases; construction will include demolition of the present gym as well as Wisdom Hall and the Bogue Falaya apartments.
The next step for the project will be with the city zoning commission, although opponents have 10 days to appeal the historic commission ruling.
“If everything goes well, we would hope to start construction at the end of this year,” Villere said, with about 14 to 18 months to complete the first phase.
Villere said the Historic Commission was the biggest hurdle, which is why students and parents gathered in the chapel on campus to pray before heading to the hearing.
“I think a special moment for me,” she said, “was knowing that we were gathering to pray at 5 p.m. The initial idea was to start with prayer and process to the chamber saying the rosary. But weather came in, with rain and hail.”
Instead of walking from the chapel, parents and students drove. But the bad weather brought a smile to the friends of St. Scholastica, the saint known for praying for rain so that her brother, St. Benedict, could stay with her another day. At SSA, rain is usually a good sign.
“The adults and students in the chapel said, ‘Scholastica, she is here!’” Villere said. “They were all feeling her presence.”
The saint’s presence was also felt in the packed chamber. “When the kids and parents came filing in, it was so affirming,” Villere said. “It made me realize that what we are intending to do is the right thing. It gets done in God’s way.”
St. Scholastica has an enrollment of 640 students, and Villere said the new building is not intended to increase enrollment dramatically.
“The buildings are for the programs we have now and the future programs we hope to establish,” she said. “We are interested in having a family atmosphere and keeping our idea of sisterhood. Those are the pieces we have to keep strong.”
The first phase of the project will cost approximately $8.3 million, and Villere said plans are under way for a capital campaign. For more information and drawings, go to ssacad.com/proposedconstruction plan.