Villanova University marked the opening of its newest living and learning community, The Commons, with a blessing and dedication from University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. on Wednesday, Aug. 28. The cutting of a large blue and white ribbon in front of Cupola Hall officially opened the new buildings to the community on a day fit for celebration, the feast day of St. Augustine.
An excited audience of students, teachers, donors, priests and community members came to witness this historic event. Ken Valosky, Executive Vice President of the University, introduced the event, passionately speaking about the project that has been “a decade in the making.”
“The Commons project has truly transformed the entire landscape of Villanova, creating a striking new gateway to the University,” Valosky said. He described the development, from what once was a parking lot to an outstanding living and learning space for future generations of Villanovans.
The Commons houses 1,135 students, allowing Villanova to offer housing to 85 percent of its students. Construction began in Nov. 2015 and was completed in June 2019. The Commons are part of a $225 million transformation of the institution’s former surface parking lots. Six apartment-style residence halls — Arch Hall, Canon Hall, Chapter Hall, Cupola Hall, Friar Hall and Trinity Hall — mark the first new residence halls built at the University since 2000. This brings the total number of on-campus residence buildings to 32.
Amenities include two fitness centers equipped with weights, cardiovascular training equipment and aerobics class space; IT TechZone space for students to learn and collaborate; six community rooms; a smart-locker mailroom; and outdoor courtyards.
Valosky noted the important work of the construction team, workers, generous donors, as well as Donohue, who was “hands on” with the project for its entire duration. Valosky then introduced Donohue, who candidly expressed his awe of the new space, the evolution of Villanova and The Commons as a distinct landmark of Villanova as a physical symbol and representation to the University’s stature as a top university.
“I told the architects at the beginning of this process that I wanted these buildings to look as though they have always been here,” said Marilou Smith, Senior Project Manager in Facilities Management at Villanova. “The buildings are exactly what we envisioned and mirror the distinctive collegiate gothic look that is so evident throughout campus. The Commons really completes the Villanova campus, adding a new gateway to our University and making Villanova’s most iconic building, St. Thomas of Villanova Church, the focal point of what is now the center of our campus.”
Donohue touched on the obstacles faced in construction but applauded the “big-picture thinking” of Valosky over the years. With the University now crossing Lancaster Avenue, Donohue told the crowd about the actualization of his dream for visitors to not only drive past Villanova, but instead drive through it. “The opening of The Commons is the culmination of extraordinary efforts by many, both within and outside Villanova University over a number of years,” said Donohue.
As the University undertakes its new “Rooted. Restless” Strategic Plan for 2020-2030, The Commons is a hallmark in the school’s commitment to sustainability. A key aspect of The Commons is its sustainable design and benefits. On the outside, all light fixtures are dark sky compliant, reducing light pollution. Two cisterns located underground will collect storm water from the roofs, filter the water and re-use it to cool the buildings.
Three bioswales along Lancaster Avenue, designed as walls with seating, will remove debris and pollution from surface water runoff. In all, it is estimated that 400,000 gallons of water can be saved each year with this sustainable infrastructure. These areas will also be used as storm water test sites, allowing College of Engineering faculty and students to further their cutting-edge research in the areas of storm water management and green infrastructure. Inside the buildings, students will find energy-efficient and motion sensor light fixtures and low-flow plumbing fixtures to help reduce energy costs.
The Commons will also be home to the University’s first restaurant, The Refectory. The University also partnered with Parliament Espresso & Coffee Bar for a grab-and-go café with prepared sandwiches, pastries and coffee drinks.
With a large pair of golden scissors, all those involved with the planning, creation, and building of The Commons gathered for the ribbon cutting and photos in front of Cupola Hall, and an impressive reception took place afterwards with tours of the facilities and attendants serving champagne and hors d’oeuvres to those who came to celebrate this milestone occasion.