St. Cloud Times: Modern trappings update historic Main Building, others at the College of Saint Benedict

Nora G. Hertel, St. Cloud Times Published 10:11 a.m. CT Sept. 17, 2019

Renovated area on the third floor in the Main Building.

ST. JOSEPH — Sunlight illuminates stained-glass skylights above a courtyard that has become a newly furnished student lounge surrounded by faculty offices at the College of St. Benedict. 

It used to be the nun’s dormitory, and now it’s the Economics Department.

College of St. Benedict students found upgraded technology and cozy, new study spaces when classes began in late August.

The Main Building, which dates back to the late 1800s, got a facelift, as did the Henrita Academic Building and Clemens Library. Some departments moved or expanded in the process. 

Departments in the Main Building are set up with central student lounges surrounded by faculty offices, said Academic Dean Barbara May.

Math, economics and computer science are now all in the building, May said. That can make it easier for those departments to work together, such as for a data analytics minor, which is in the works. 

Terrazzo floors, window casements, tin ceilings and other details were preserved in the Main Building. It includes wings dating back to 1882 and 1892, according to the school’s archivist. 

A renovated computer lab in the Main Building.

The Benedictine sisters were “ecstatic” with the renovations, said Executive Director of Facilities Ryan Gideon. “We preserved the fabric of the building.”

There’s new technology in the classrooms and moveable furniture to allow professors to set up rooms to suit their lessons. The lounges have high-backed chairs that make insular niches for one or two students. There are tables for group work, too. 

“These are your spaces,” May said they told students. “They’re not ours. They’re not faculty’s.”

And she said she has seen more students using lounges than ever before. 

The Henrita Academic Building, known as HAB, has bold new furniture in its main lounge, including red, black and grey seating in a mid-century modern style. It used to be St. Benedict’s Academy high school.

Student lounge area in Henrita Academic Building.

“We wanted to add openness and light,” said Gideon, who was contractor on that project last year.

The exercise science area in the HAB basement had been “very dark and dated,” he said. Now it’s bright with new skylights and quadruple the space. 

There’s an exercise science minor already, and there’s an effort to create a major, May said. There’s demand in the market for it, interest among students and great faculty already in the department. 

Clemens Library also got a major renovation in time for the school year. It’s arranged to better accommodate student traffic as it becomes a thoroughfare for students moving from the bus stop to academic buildings, Gideon said.

The IT help desk now has space at the library front desk, and the Experience & Professional Development office has a prominent place — that’s where students get help developing their majors and finding internships and jobs. 

As for the aesthetics, “we’ve added glass everywhere,” Gideon said. It’s warm and open, with towering ceilings. 

There’s also a new makers’ space and 3-D printer lab in the library. 

A renovated lounge space in the Main Building.

The building dates back to 1986, Gideon said. But it now shows “the best of what a college library can be today.”