Gifts allow Chatham, St. Vincent to become bigger

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Two of the region's smaller colleges are about to embark on giant building projects.

Chatham University announced yesterday that it was increasing its land area tenfold, opening a new campus on the 388-acre Eden Hall Farm in Richland while retaining its 39-acre Shadyside campus.

St. Vincent College in Latrobe announced its biggest-ever building project yesterday: an expansion of its science buildings financed in part by a $7.6 million gift from Sis and Herman Dupre and their family and friends.

Both schools believe that the impending changes will raise their schools' profiles both regionally and nationally.

"It's one of the most significant events any institution could experience over the course of its history," said Chatham President Esther Barazzone. "I'm so excited about it I can barely speak. It's transformational."

Eden Hall Farm is the largest undeveloped land plot in Allegheny County, and with the transfer of the deed yesterday, Chatham became the county's largest university by acreage.

The Allegheny County property assessment Web site lists the value of Eden Hall Farm at more than $3 million. The farm, which sits in the Pine-Richland School District, is likely worth far more than that figure, said Chatham spokesman Paul Kovach, but the university does not yet have an updated value.

Chatham will start using the facilities immediately, planning to host student activities at Eden Hall Farm this summer and offer some graduate and environmentally-focused classes there in the fall, said Dr. Barazzone.

Within about a year, she said, the university will complete a master plan for the site -- a plan that will likely include building dormitories for student housing.

Chatham's current enrollment of 2,000 students is four times what it was 15 years ago, she said, and space on the Shadyside campus is "maxed out."

Particularly in the evening, said board of trustees member Sigo Falk, there isn't a single classroom to spare.

At 1,600-student St. Vincent College, said President Jim Towey, demand was also starting to exceed the available facilities at the college's Science Center, which was built in 1969.

"When you look at the incoming freshman class, 35 percent of the students seek to major in the [Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing]," he said. "This project is coming not a minute too soon."

The gift from the Dupres to St. Vincent also kicks off a $40 million fund-raising campaign for science scholarships, professorships and research, as well as for the new buildings.

In the new Science Complex, 60,000 square feet of building space will be renovated and a 45,000-square-foot addition, featuring an open design and a three-story all-glass atrium, will be constructed.

Mr. Dupre graduated from St. Vincent in 1953 and served as chief executive officer of the Seven Springs ski resort for four decades before his retirement in 1992. Mrs. Dupre taught English and physical education in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The couple also established St. Vincent's Great Teacher Recognition Program, which recognizes influential high school teachers of St. Vincent's freshman.

Eden Hall Farm also has a history rooted in philanthropy. The farm was originally a summer home for Sebastian Mueller, an executive of the H.J. Heinz Co.

Upon his death in 1938, Mr. Mueller willed the farm to be used as a retreat for working women, who for decades came to sleep overnight at the farm's art deco conference center and to bowl, swim and ride horses.

In recent years, however, use of the property had "dwindled to next to nothing," said George Greer, chairman and president of the Eden Hall Foundation.

The foundation deliberated about selling the property or auctioning it off for the last year, he said, but ultimately decided to give it to Chatham to continue the farm's mission of serving women.

"There was only one institution in town that would fit so naturally with what Sebastian Mueller had in mind when he created Eden Hall Farm," said Mr. Greer. "It just dovetails perfectly."

Chatham plans to use Eden Hall Farm not only for its students and staff, but also to host summer camps and continuing education classes, as well as for a recreational space with hiking trails.

"It will be one of the most unique university campuses in the country," said Dr. Barazzone.


Anya Sostek can be reached at asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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