It took 128 years, but the original construction plans for Ambrose Hall finally may be completed this year.
An ambitious exterior renovation of the building that has been central to a St. Ambrose education since 1885 may include a steeple clock. The timepiece apparently was called for in the original blueprints but never was installed.
"It certainly appears a clock was planned," said Mike Poster, vice president for finance at St. Ambrose. "There is even a timer that can be attached to the bell."
In reality, Poster said work begun this spring on both Ambrose and LeClaire halls has started the clock on the next half century of the historic buildings' steadfast service to St. Ambrose.
"We are really talking about giving these buildings the next 50 years of their lives," Poster said. "This will allow us to come in and do major work to the inside sometime in the future. We don't want to do the interior until we know we have a tight envelope."
Plans for wholesale interior renovations are only in the talking stage, but ideally a modernized Ambrose Hall would become an academic centerpiece in the near future, Poster said.
LeClaire Hall would become the university's new administrative center. Opened in 1916, it originally housed the school's auditorium, swimming pool and gymnasium. The physical plant was moved there after the PE Center was opened in 1983. Those operations will move next fall to the current location of the university bookstore and coffee shop on Harrison Street after the bookstore is moved this summer to the Rogalski Center.
By fall, the coffee shop will be part of a new café style Beehive in the lower portion of Ambrose Hall. "We want to get the Beehive reinvigorated again," Poster said of a meeting space that will serve pastries, sandwiches, soups and salads by day and become a student lounge by night. "We want it to be a place where students can hang out."
The exterior renovation could be finished as early as December. That includes replacing windows in both buildings, some of which may be more than a century old; replacing sandstone with limestone on the lower portions of Ambrose Hall; replacing crumbling brick and deteriorating mortar on both buildings; and replacing the roof on LeClaire.
Work on the outside of Ambrose also will include removing false mansard roofing and returning the central tower to the way it looked in 1885, with a working bell that will be rung on special occasions, Poster said.
If Ambrose Hall could talk, what stories do you think it would tell?
It has certainly been witness to Ambrosian moments too countless to fathom: The bashful guy awkwardly asking the popular girl out on a first date. The quiet prayer of a young student in the Grotto searching for peace after a difficult day. The craziness of Last Blast, the relief after a class presentation, or the attentive watch as a world event unfolds on a big screen TV.
Perhaps it would talk of the war protests of the 1960s, or the final outdoor commencement ceremony held under the oaks in May 2004. It likely would reflect fondly on the new families who entered its welcoming doors in search of the admissions office and the tears shed as St. Ambrose legends left its comforting arms for the last time.
With all it has witnessed, all the changes it has endured, Ambrose Hall watches over us still. Standing guard, ever the quiet observer, with its soaring steeple, large windows, winding wooden staircases and grand arching hallways.
Ambrose Hall stands tall today not just because it was built well, but because it has lived well, helping us to understand, in its own way, what it means to live an Ambrosian life.
Since 1885, Ambrose Hall has fulfilled a promise to inspire generations of Ambrosians. It has made an ongoing mission of filling those students with the tenets of a Catholic, liberal arts education, then watching them walk out its doors poised to enrich their own lives and the lives of others.
Yes, in 128 years of existence, Ambrose Hall has rightfully earned the title of campus icon. Living legend. A face for our esteemed university. But it would be the first to say it is all these things only because of the people who have filled its classrooms with curiosity and generosity, its offices with creativity and kindness, and its hallways with hope and ambition.
At face value, Ambrose Hall is indeed just another building. Clay and limestone, wooden staircases and ivied walls. And, yes, OK, even some pretty tacky carpet.
But because of you-because of the contagious laughter you've shared, the conversations you have provoked, the tears you have cried, the lessons you have learned and the lessons you have taught-Ambrose Hall has a steady and still strong heartbeat. It breathes with renewed vigor. It lives through your stories. And it eagerly awaits the untold more that are yet to unfold.