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|The Beacon: Gibbons Hall Readied for Renovation
—by Joan Wisner-Carlson
One hundred forty years ago, a five-story red-brick building crowned with a bell tower and a simple gold cross opened its doors on a hilltop in north Baltimore to educate those whose education was neglected by society—girls and young women. Completed in 1873, the building now known as Gibbons Hall would 22 years later house the administrative offices, classrooms and dormitory of the first Catholic college for women in the United States to award the four-year baccalaureate degree.
Today, University leaders are embarking on a major renovation of Gibbons Hall, with plans under way to identify the steps necessary to restore its historic beauty as well as to equip it to meet the instructional needs of 21st century students.
The first phase of the Gibbons Project will be a comprehensive planning survey to begin this spring to document and prioritize the work required to preserve the building’s exterior, says Patricia A. Bosse ’81, vice president for institutional advancement. A $10,000 gift from a friend of the University will partially fund the planning survey by an architectural engineering firm, she says.
The goal of the planning effort will be to survey the exterior envelope of the building, including the structural integrity of the monumental tower and the condition of its 278 windows, the slate of its mansard roof, red bricks and paint.
Faculty who teach in Gibbons welcome the technology updates. English professor Ray Bossert appreciates the tin ceiling and historic charm of his classroom on the fifth floor. But he notes that the technology carts that instructors must wheel from room to room make it challenging to incorporate videos or other multimedia sources into instruction.
Some School Sisters take a characteristically pragmatic approach to the Gibbons Project. Kathleen Marie Engers, SSND ’47, recalls that one prominent feature of the building, a grand wooden staircase leading to the second floor known as “the pope stairs,” was later removed when the open expanse was deemed a fire hazard. “We would like to retain as best as we can certain historic elements of Gibbons’ interior, but we need to look at the broad picture of how we can sustain the building well into the future for the benefit of our students,” says Sister Kathleen. “We are called here to educate students above all.”
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