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Caldwell, N.J., May 6, 2021 – A new student lounge is always a welcome addition to campus life. Come this fall, however,  a bright new gathering space will mean so much more to CU students —a fresh setting to reunite after a lengthy separation, a space for that long-desired and never-again-to-be-taken-for-granted time to hang out “in person” with friends and colleagues. That’s why Sheila O’Rourke, who has led the university’s Pandemic Response Task Force, is excited to share the construction plans for the new gathering space in Mother Joseph Residence Hall.

“If we can make lemonade out of what we’re going through by enhancing the student experience and by bringing students back to new and beautiful renovated spaces, then I think all that we have been through in the past year can more quickly become just a memory,” said O’Rourke, the university’s vice president for operations who is overseeing the project with Ray Williams, director of facilities.

The lounge will include the common room which will feature a wide-open gathering area with comfortable seating, a study area behind a see-through glass wall with two large TV monitors, charging stations for devices, two bathrooms—one newly renovated and the other new and ADA compliant—and a butler’s pantry with a sink. 

Gazing upward visitors will see an industrial-style ceiling with “a New York loft kind of look juxtapositioned against the beautiful arched chapel windows,” explained O’Rourke. The windows were located in the old chapel for over five decades until it was formally decommissioned in accordance with canon law in April 2019 and the new beautiful Sister Mary Tweedus Chapel was built in the Newman Center. Much of the exquisite sacred art was moved to the new chapel, which is more centrally located on campus. The altar railings were far too heavy to get up or down stairs, so Sister Kathleen Tuite, O.P., vice president for student life, and alumna Meg Poltorak Keyes, the new chapel’s liturgical designer, made arrangements with the Archdiocese of Newark to have them taken apart, repurposed and given to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Newark. To Sister Kathleen it is heartwarming to know that the railings that “provided moments of prayer, peace, and spiritual nourishment for generations of CU students will now continue to do so for the community of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.”

The contractor for the new lounge is Fuscon Enterprises, Inc., and the architecture firm is Comito Associates. “They were both selected in part because they understand our culture and goals,” said O’Rourke. Those goals included offering “without hesitancy” to remove some remaining concrete with a jack hammer on the weekends to ensure learners from the Center for Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis would not be in the building. The project is made possible by a New Jersey Manufacturers grant and a generous gift from John and Nancy Ann Larue ‘69 ; the lounge will be completed in 120 days, barring unforeseen delays or supply chain issues, and will open to coincide with the start of the fall semester.

After a year in which students and employees made “massive adjustments” to their teaching, learning and work styles and students were unable to assemble in lounges, O’Rourke sees it as “a privilege for the university to be able to provide such a beautiful new space to students as we all push past and move through this incredibly unusual experience.” There is a spirit of community at Caldwell—“a palpable energy” and collaboration among students, staff and faculty when they meet in groups that such spaces make possible, said O’Rourke. She is grateful to President Matthew Whelan for his leadership and his experience with this type of construction project and to Sister Kathleen and Crystal Lopez, assistant dean of residence life and conduct, who worked to ascertain from students what would be the best use of the space.  “Lounge spaces are known to have the ability to form lifelong memories and I am excited to provide this type of experience to our well-deserved student community,” said Lopez. 

President Whelan indicated that “Most people don’t immediately grasp that students spend most of their time outside the classroom. This lounge will provide our students with the modern living learning space that is critical to the outside the classroom learning experience. They need this space…more importantly, they deserve it. And this is only the first! We are reviewing the entire campus to make it one of the most beautiful in the region so that our students come here and not only get the very best experience in the classroom but outside the classroom as well.”

Surely many are looking  forward to the day when the campus community and supporters can gather together and celebrate with gratitude not just the newly renovated space but, more important, what it means to be together as a Caldwell University community. As O’Rourke said,“Everybody wins when we have spaces where we can be together and to collaborate and just enjoy one another.”