Departmental ramifications regarding School of Theology’s move

The School of Theology’s Chapel of the Apostles. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

By Anna Mann

As previously covered by the Purple, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell announced early February that following a renovation of both Guerry Hall and St. Luke’s Chapel, Guerry may conceivably serve as the new on-campus site of the School of Theology.

Plans to move the School of Theology to central campus emerged in 2015 after approval from the Board of Regents sought to reintegrate the school from Hamilton Hall, located near the Tennessee Williams Center. Plans have fluctuated since then about the proposed site, but the proposal of a singular site, like Guerry, has yet to emerge.

Sarah Boykin, Director of Campus Planning, Design and Construction, stated that Guerry was constructed in 1961 “to provide faculty offices and classrooms for the arts and included an outstanding auditorium space for a range of functions, including performances, lectures, theatrical productions, and other cultural events.”

Boykin recently completed a planning study to assess the recommended renovation of Guerry Hall, the first floor of St. Luke’s Hall, and St. Luke’s Chapel for the School of Theology. Though only a preliminary look has been taken, Boykin said that the building met the “primary programmatic requirements” for the School of Theology. Next, Boykin will analyze how best to house the music and politics departments, currently located in Guerry, in ways to “promote interactions, collaborations, and engagement among faculty, staff, and students.”

The proposed renovations would preserve the exterior while offering fresh offices, classrooms, restrooms, lighting, and a new elevator. Additionally, Guerry Auditorium would have better lighting and seating without disrupting the “historical interior,” said Boykin.

According the the Chair of the Music Department, Stephen Ray Miller, Guerry was originally built after Sewanee’s Summer Music Festival began in 1957, making the department more critical to the University’s curriculum. However, when a fire ensured that the language department must move into the new building instead, the music department continued without consolidation.

Miller divulged that the renovation of Guerry could mean the music department, centralized in Guerry Hall since the year 2005, would move to a renovated Hamilton Hall.

“Probably the biggest question is whether the orchestra could actually rehearse in Hamilton Hall,” said Miller. “The orchestra certainly needs to rehearse adjacent to the office of the conductor. Adjacent to all of the staff that supports the orchestra… it seems inevitable that the orchestra would have to have a new home at Hamilton Hall.”

In addition, the movement of instruments from the Hamilton practice space to Guerry Auditorium would pose what Miller refers to as “a major logistical headache,” as instruments could be easily damaged in transit.

What he refers to as potential institutional issues include the immovable locations of the carillon bells in Shapard Tower, the Bentley change-ringing bells in Breslin tower, and the “natural home” of the University Choir in All Saints’ Chapel. All three are major parts of the music department’s mission.

Miller continued by saying that “one huge question mark hanging out there is what would the absence of the music from central campus do to both campus culture and the department.”

Though Miller expressed his concerns regarding the department’s possible departure from central campus, he did claim that an upside to the move would be greater collaboration with the theater department.

However, according to Andrea Hatcher, Chair of the Politics Department, there is little information surrounding the proposed movement of the politics offices from Guerry other than that their supposed “move to Carnegie was not part of the first phase of the renovation plan.”

However, the final site for the School of Theology’s move has yet to be chosen and Guerry may not be its final home. Boykin reiterated that “the planning study completed in January provided recommendations. We won’t have a proposed move or completion date until a decision is made regarding the best location and the best plan for the School of Theology.”