The Catholic University of America

Remarks at Dedication of Father O'Connell Hall
Frank G. Persico, Vice President for University Relations and Chief of Staff of The Catholic University of America
Father O'Connell Hall
Oct. 17, 2014

Father O’Connell Hall. . .

Father O’Connell Hall is now 100 years old and has had many purposes. President Garvey talked about her history. . . . I personally don’t ever recall it being called Graduate Hall, but, yes, it was. But, I have lived through it being Cardinal Hall — with a residence hall, dining hall, student lounge, and a bar. Somewhere in there it was called the Social Center — or the “Sosh!” I’m not sure it was ever officially named that but it housed student activities, meeting spaces, a student lounge, still the dining hall — and still a bar! My bachelor party was held here on the second floor.

I also remember the transition from the Social Center to it becoming the University Center. This move was designed to make it a student activities center similar to what is now the Pryz. Student offices were here, like the student government, the Tower, the Cardinal Yearbook, WCUA radio, and the like. The dining hall was still here and there was a convenience store — the Loft — awkwardly named. And still a bar—The Rathskeller. My office as the dean of students was here.

Father O’Connell Hall — yes, it has meant many things to many people over these past 100 years. Today we usher in a new era — a new era for this majestic building — one that will host the alumni center, admissions, financial aid, enrollment services, and advancement. And, let’s hope the name sticks, too! Father O’Connell Hall.

A lot of people put in a lot of time to transform this beautiful building into the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified place it is today.

First and foremost, Cathy Wood, vice president for finance and treasurer, and Jerry Conrad, associate vice president for facilities operations, were instrumental in leading the charge for Catholic University. Jerry knows this building like the back of his hand — I suspect that recently he has given more tours of this building than the docents at the Smithsonian have over the past month — and he probably has nightmares about the building, too! Thanks to all of the Catholic University folks who worked on this project — congratulations.

So many firms were involved in bringing this building back to life. They include:

Acoustical Design Collaborative
Adtek Engineers
DG Studios
Hoffman Architects
Lee & Associates
McMullen & Associates
MEP Solutions
Structure Tone Inc.
Sustainable Building Partners
Technology Design Resources
and Van Deusen & Associates

Thanks to all for your hard work and diligence in this effort.

In addition to those people who labored on the building, as John noted, we have with us today numerous families and individuals who made the renovation of this building possible through their generous philanthropy. As you go through the building today you will see the names, on temporary signage, of those individuals on rooms and wings and foyers and patios and conference rooms and interview rooms and the like. You will see names like Joiner and McInerney and May and O’Neil and Bidwill and Banziger and Scheve and Tuohey and Daly and Shay and more. If not for the support and generosity of these individuals, this renovation would not have taken place; so we thank you from the very bottom of our hearts for your generosity.

There are a few things that I would like you to look for when you take your self-guided tour through the building after the ceremony. These are some of the special added touches that make this building so intriguing. Let me start in Heritage Hall, which is off to my left. That name, Heritage Hall, has a nice ring to it. But, if someone in the audience today would like to rename it after themselves or their family, see me after the ceremony! It is a wonderful naming opportunity still to be had! This large hall has been refurbished to its grandeur of 1914. The plan called for restoring the historic architectural elements, such as

  • Its historic balcony — a balcony that overlooks Heritage Hall. This lovely balcony had been closed off to hide an HVAC unit of some sort. It is really great that we have that balcony feature again.
  • The existing wall panels were refinished. Hand-painted faux finishes on the original wood panels make them uniform and beautiful.
  • The existing coffered ceiling was refinished and we removed ductwork that covered up some of the hall’s beauty. Look up when you go see it — it’s not the Sistine Chapel, but worth craning your neck to review its newfound beauty.
  • Take a look at the light fixtures — the fixtures are restored and relamped. The existing chandeliers and wall sconces are now wired to hold energy-efficient LED bulbs. The exciting thing is that these are the original light fixtures that were restored and new parts and pieces, where needed, were forged to match the existing parts. They are incredible.
  • The building itself sports all new windows, except in Heritage Hall. New acoustical and environmentally friendly panels were placed over those windows in the interior. Take a look when you get inside.

And while the old elements were being restored, some new items were added to Heritage Hall.

  • New, environmentally friendly HVAC systems have been added to improve occupant thermal comfort.
  • Sprinkler lines were added to the ceiling to protect our investment!
  • State-of-the-art acoustical paint was used in some of the upper panels to dampen the sound in the hall.
  • New, state-of-the-art audio-video systems were installed.

Watch for these elements in Heritage Hall when you tour.

Here are some other items that I am really excited about. As you enter the Banziger 1914 Tower:

  • Look at the hand railings immediately to your right and left. The original railings were too low and did not meet today’s building code. Instead of ripping them out and putting in new, wrought-iron extensions were fabricated to bring the railings to the proper height. It is really cool what they did, so take a look when you go in!
  • Then, look up. The existing plaster ceilings have been restored.
  • And, the existing wall panels were restored.
  • That’s it for the old, now for the new:
  • The upper floors are now accessible by a newly installed elevator.
  • When you see the offices in the upper floors you will see efficient administrative space.
  • You will also see a continuity of patterns, colors, and materials throughout.

Three other “energy-efficient” things to look for in the upper levels:

  • There is a “green roof” on the 1960s additions. Look out the window in the O’Neil Room on the fourth floor.
  • Daylight sensors are employed throughout to turn lights on and off as needed.
  • Water stations that supply filtered water for use in filling up water bottles and therefore, cutting down on the consumption of water from plastic bottles.

Finally, there were numerous construction challenges for an existing building of this age.

  • When you are on the third and fourth floors of this building, you might notice a slight slope in the floor as you go down the hallway. The original concrete floors could not meet the weight requirements of today’s office spaces, so the slabs were removed and lightweight, load-bearing materials were deployed and that made for a slight change in the floor’s thickness.
  • We removed and replaced a large area of the basement slab, which allowed for leveling of the area and making usable work space. The challenge was to contain and control groundwater that was gushing from the soil below. When you visit today, it will be bone dry and flat down there!
  • And, we had to modify and strengthen the existing the building structure to accommodate the two new elevators — none existed prior to this.

So, this building of such great history begins anew today. For over 100 of years it has stood as an iconic symbol at the University and, from this day forward it will again be used in a significant manner. I trust you will enjoy the renovations that have been made to her. It is a thing of beauty and the University can certainly be proud of the work that has been accomplished here.

Have a great day and thanks to everyone for being here today.




More news from CUA