New hall at Ursuline Academy provides connections

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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East meets west. Science meets the arts. Inaccessibility meets a solution.

Hartnett Hall at Ursuline Academy formally opened with a blessing on Jan. 27, the Feast of St. Angela Merici. The new 16,996 square-foot, two-story building connected two buildings on the campus, Merici and Brescia Halls — east and west — and costs $5.7 million.

Hartnett Hall includes four new science labs. The anatomy, biology, chemistry and conceptual physics labs have adjoining prep rooms and storage space. The addition also has a two-story choral music and band room and a two-story modern dance and cheer studio with elevated ceiling and integrated lighting and sound systems.

A three-story elevator adds accessibility to the now-interconnected campus.

The building is named in honor of longtime educator Thelma Hartnett, who taught at Ursuline from 1965 to 1992, when she began working in the Alumnae Office, a position she still holds today at age 96. Hartnett is known as the face of Ursuline Academy for countless alumnae and is devoted to raising funds for student tuition assistance.

Planning for the project began about five years ago after an old elevator that served only one side of the building constructed in the 1920s was in disrepair. A student was injured in a boating accident, and the lack of accessibility for her provided further impetus to move ahead. "The idea was to come up with the best solution not only to make Ursuline physically accessible but also to meet current and future needs to help prepare students for college and beyond," said Ursuline president Tina Reichardt.

Providing accessibility was a matter of social justice, Reichardt said. Blending the performing arts and science was a fit.

The science rooms feature sinks, easy access to plug in electrical devices, an autoclave (a heavy vessel for conducting chemical reactions under high pressure), space for collaborative learning and more. Barbara Herbst, chair of the science department, proudly showed off the space recently, including facilities for sterilizing stethoscopes and goggles.

Included is space for robotics and 3-D printing. Shane Hanson, physics teacher, is leading a robotics club and will teach a robotics class next year. He's received grants from the Monsanto Fund, FIRST Robotics and the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri. This year, the robotics team, one of only a few all-girls teams, is just about finished with the building phase and will begin testing their robot, a pace that is far ahead of teams he's been associated with in previous years.

"None of these girls have done this before," he said. "It's a testament to the type of girls we have here."

In summer 2016 Ursuline, which has had a dance program for at least 30 years, was granted a chapter of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts by the National Dance Education Organization. The first Ursuline members were inducted during the December 2016 dance recital. Dance team members competed in the Universal Dance Association National Dance Team Championship Feb. 3-5 at Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Fla. It's the second consecutive year that the team has earned a spot in the national competition.

Ursuline placed second out of 11 local teams competing in the World Wide Technology STEM Student Forum, earning a $5,000 prize as well as individual medals. Ursuline was the only all-girls team to compete.

The school prides itself on one-on-one attention to students and a strong sense of sisterhood among students.

Craig Hunt, president of the board of Ursuline Academy, said the effort to provide accessibility to the entire campus "gave us the opportunity to create a space that really served the school's needs." 

How to help

Ursuline Academy is continuing fundraising for its newly completed construction project. Founded in 1848 under the sponsorship of the Ursuline sisters, Ursuline Academy is a Catholic college preparatory school for young women. The student to teacher ratio is 10 to one. The school has a one-to-one laptop computer program.

To view a video about Ursuline Academy and its campaign, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bVh.

To contribute, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bVS. 

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