The building at the center of Ursuline Academy that was home to nuns, served as the school’s chapel and was originally donated by John J. Raskob in 1919 celebrated its centennial milestone with a joyous ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday, marking a complete transformation of the space to meet the 21st century needs of a growing student population.
The former convent is now the Anthony N. Fusco Sr. Student Life Center – the heart of Ursuline’s campus on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilmington. Students have enjoyed the new facility – a beautiful historic preservation mixed with modern day styles – for about a month. But Saturday marked the first time hundreds of alumnae, parents and donors have seen the new space and all it offers.
The nearly $13-million fundraising campaign began in 2015 to renovate the vacant convent into a multi-functional space for students, faculty and staff.
Historic relationship between EDiS and Ursuline
The construction project was handled by a familiar friend to Ursuline. EDiS Company managed the original building renovations in 1919. Nearly 100 years later, the same builders began the new phase of design and construction in December 2017. The 38,000 square-foot Student Life Center includes a large two-story atrium – an addition to the original structure – that served as the site of Saturday’s ribbon-cutting.
“Standing here in this renovated space is really special for me and my cousin Andrew, who worked on the project,” said EDiS CEO Brian DiSabatino. “It is a new day at Ursuline, and we were honored to be entrusted with their future.”
Ursuline Academy Board of Trustees Chair Maritza Poza-Grise reflected on the spirit of the nuns who lived, prayed and taught there for decades. “Refashioning a beautiful 95-year-old convent into this vibrant Student Life Center truly is a manifestation of that adaptive spirit of the Ursulines. In a few short weeks, it has transformed the campus and become the hub of student life here.”
Largest financial gift to UA in history
The building is named after Tony Fusco, whose $4 million donation is the largest gift in the history of the school.
Several students were on hand today to guide guests throughout the new facility, which now houses the school’s Welcome Center, library, dining hall, a band and chorus room, art and 3D printing classrooms, the Raiders’ Closet, faculty lounge, and conference rooms.
An observation echoed by students and guests yesterday was that all of the new classrooms, gathering and dining spaces are bathed in light thanks to multiple windows.
Sixth-grader Caroline Poole showed guests the new 1313 Innovation Room. The room has its own 3D printer, bright blue rolling classroom chairs with retractable desks (which allow students to work in groups), and a ball pit. “This is where we think about problems in the world and we try to solve them. We start small and eventually get bigger,” said Poole. “So, for example, one class made pillow covers for kids with ALS disease,” she said.
The ball pit is filled with dozens of balls with questions written on some that are meant to spark conversation.
The atrium has become one of the most popular spaces in the new building. The room boasts floor-to-ceiling windows which overlook the Cool Spring Reservoir, lots of space for students to gather with friends or work independently, and a wood table designed and donated by WNBA basketball star and 2008 Ursuline grad Elena Delle Donne.
Students can also be found in the UA Café throughout the day while on break and in-between classes. All three divisions now share one new dining hall, but each division has designated seating areas. Younger students love the original door knobs and coat hooks – now painted in bright colors – that were placed on several walls of the elementary division eating area. Older students enjoy the mix of booths, high tops and round tables.
Keeping the respect and reverence of its former use as the Chapel, the new Library includes the original stained-glass windows, wooden beams, and balcony. The confessional rooms were turned into small group study rooms.
The original confessional doors were moved to a new, smaller chapel, which has a few of the original pews that were in the original chapel.
School President Trisha Medeiros expressed her gratitude to the many donors, dedicated school employees and workmen who helped bring the school’s vision to reality. “As you walk through the halls of the Student Life Center, you feel the legacy of Ursuline’s past 125 years, the strong foundation built by the Ursuline sisters and the promise of our bright future.”