After largely going unused this academic year, Utica College will breathe new life into the Newman Community Center.
After receiving bequests of $150,000 and $500,000, UC will convert Newman Center into a designated student space, according to Vice President for Institutional Planning Kim Lambert. But just what should the space be used for?
That question remains largely unanswered.
One possibility would be moving Student Government Association’s existing offices from Strebel into Newman Center, Lambert said, while remaining space would be used as a multicultural student space.
Prior to last year, Newman Center was owned and operated by the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse for over 50 years and was used as the home for Rev. Paul Drobin’s congregation. The land the building rests on was leased by Utica College as part of a partnership with the Catholic Church. But following Drobin’s retirement prior to the start of the 2018 fall semester, ownership of the building itself was officially transferred from the Diocese over to UC.
Now with $650,000 to spend, college officials have begun seeking feedback from student leaders on what changes they would like to see made to the Newman Center.
“We’re short on space here (Utica College) and students have to compete with classes, visitors and meetings [to reserve spaces for activities],” Lambert said. “So to be able to dedicate spaces to students, I think, is a great opportunity.”
Earlier this month, a small group of students met with college administrators and representatives from Bonacci Architects, the architectural firm chosen to carry out the renovation project, for a design charrette (brainstorming session).
Junior and newly-elected Student Government Association President Michael Delia was one of the students who attended the meeting.
Delia, who attended Catholic services led by Drobin, said he feels strongly that the updated Newman Center should include space for faith-based events and activities at the very least. Citing concerns for national depression and suicide rates among college-age adults, Delia explained that a spiritual space that accommodates all faiths and backgrounds, religious or otherwise, would give students an escape from the stresses of college life.
“If you give somebody a place to go and get away from everything where there’s no noise, where there’s no technology, where you can just sit; even if you’re not religious or faithful, if you can just go somewhere where it is quiet and just relax, that in and of itself can work wonders,” he said.
As an ambassador for the admissions office, Delia said he has noticed that UC’s lack of a dedicated worship area for different faiths is a concern for some prospective students.
“I’ve talked to a lot of families and that is important to them,” he said. “I think that we’re in a society right now that shies away from faith. It takes somebody to speak up and say (1) it’s nothing to be ashamed of and (2) you gotta be able to fight for it because if you don’t it will go away.”
Junior Kassidy Krenzer was one of the students who attended the meeting with the architects.
Krenzer said she could see Newman Center as being a “Strebel 2.0,” where students could hold sensitive meetings and events without having to worry about nearby noise from the dining hall.
“It (Newman Center) has a really intimate kind of feeling,” Krenzer said. “When you’re trying to have an event in Strebel, it’s not always quiet; there’s always people in the Caf talking and laughing, there could be onlookers and other people who distract from the event that’s going on.”
Krenzer explained that providing a religious space could be challenging given that there are so many different backgrounds and faiths to consider when making a community space. However, she said a non-denominational space within Newman Center could be a possibility.
According to Lambert, the administration is hoping to begin renovating Newman Center this fall.