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UST STEAM building
A concept drawing of the University of Saint Thomas’ proposed STEAM building on Summit Avenue.

Construction of a $100 million STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) building at the University of Saint Thomas is on track to begin next spring. However, based on the Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission’s debate and 4-2 vote on the building plans on August 23, not everyone is thrilled to see yet another College Gothic-style building on campus.

HPC commissioners Barbara Bezat and Stuart MacDonald voted against the plans for the 130,000-square-foot, four-story building at 2260 Summit Ave., just west of the school’s Frey Science and Engineering Center. The design will complement other campus buildings on Summit, but they said a project with such cutting-edge academic programs deserves bolder architecture.

“My concern is that we have forward-looking programs wrapped in a mild College Gothic-style design,” MacDonald said.

“This is just another stretch of Kasota stone,” Bezat said. “It’s like putting together a Lego structure by moving gables and windows around.”

Commissioner David Wagner called the proposed structure “an overly safe design,” but still joined Leeta Douglas, Paul Nelson and Teresa Kimker in voting for the plans. The HPC’s decision is final unless it is appealed to the City Council in 10 days.

Commission chair Kimker said issues with the design should have been brought up at a June pre-application meeting. “Our purview is not to design the building we think should be there,” he said. The HPC reviewed the plans to ensure they meet guidelines for new construction in the Summit Avenue West Historic District.

“This is just another stretch of Kasota stone,” Bezat said. “It’s like putting together a Lego structure by moving gables and windows around.”

The Macalester-Groveland Community Council and West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee supported the building plans. The HPC received no other comments for or against the application, and no members of the public spoke at the August 23 hearing.

The STEAM building will be 75 feet tall and 245 feet wide. It will be sided with Kasota stone and have a slate roof. Construction is to start next spring if fundraising goes as planned, and the building is expected to be ready for occupancy by spring semester 2024.

Greg Fenton of BWBR Architects and UST vice president for facilities management Jim Brummer presented the plans. Fenton called the new building a signature project for the campus. Brummer said it will provide a state-of-the-art learning facility that will help attract students.

HPC staff recommended approval of the building plans, noting that the structure will fit into the rest of the campus. The project does not require any variances.

The building will be located on a 4-acre site that includes a parking lot and the former 127-year-old Loras Hall, which was torn down in February. The HPC denied a demolition permit last year for Loras Hall, but the City Council reversed that decision.

Preserving history

Commissioners asked about ways the history of the former dormitory could be preserved in the new structure. The university saved parts of the old building for potential reuse in the new one.

Bezat raised the idea of using space in the new STEAM building to commemorate Saint Paul Seminary graduate the Reverend Stephen Theobald. Born in British Guiana (now Guyana), Theobald earned a law degree and worked as a journalist at the Montreal Star. At age 31, he began five years of study toward ordination at the urging of then-Archbishop John Ireland.

Ordained in June 1910, Theobald was one of only a few Black Catholic priests in the United States at the time. He served Saint Peter Claver Catholic Church in Saint Paul for 22 years. A parish history indicates that Theobald traveled the nation championing the cause of civil rights. He died in 1932.

— Jane McClure

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