What’s the move? Updates on the relocation of the School of Theology

The Chapel of the Apostles at the School of Theology. Photo by Rob Mohr (C’21).

By Mary Katherine Saye 
Executive Staff

Recently, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell sent a letter to the seminary alumni of the School of Theology. The letter detailed reasons for keeping the School of Theology at Hamilton Hall on Tennessee Avenue.

In the letter, McCardell states that a meeting with the Board of Regents had earlier the past week “simply authorizes the University to engage an architect to develop drawings to show how the program needs of both the Seminary and the Beecken Center may be accommodated on that site.” This meeting was organized so a realistic cost for renovating Hamilton Hall could be proposed. Discussion of a much needed renovation of Hamilton Hall had been in the works for a long time, and seemed to be possible. 

One of the most significant benefits of this transition would be that there would be room for the School of Theology library, which is currently and inconveniently located in the duPont Library. However, other locations were considered as well. Plans for renovation and expansion on the site of Bishop’s Common were considered; but even with all of the donations made to the School of Theology, it would not have been enough to cover the cost of those plans.

Manigault Park and Guerry Hall were also taken into consideration. McCardell notes that “the renderings were beautiful, but the price was high,” and adds “each time, the budget came down, but each time, also, the funds raised for the building could not keep up.” 

In the summer of 2015, the Stronger Truer Sewanee campaign was created. “We estimated that we could raise $25 million (an ambitious sum) for the School of Theology as part of our $250 million (also audacious) Campaign goal” McCardell explains in the letter. The School of Theology is pleased to announce that gifts exceeding $27 million have been made in keeping with the goals of the campaign. 

According to McCardell’s letter, the bulk of this money is being used to “provide valuable support for students, faculty and programs.” A little more than $10 million is being reserved for the building project, and while this is a great deal of money, it was not enough to fund any of the other places considered besides Hamilton Hall. Though the space is “not perfect,” it “was, and is, attainable.” McCardell continues, “better still, we believe we can move most if not all of the School of Theology library to Hamilton Hall, thereby addressing a significant problem of long duration.” 

In 2018, The Sewanee Purple published an article called “School of Theology looks for new location on central campus,” which also explored options of moving. Hamilton Hall was acknowledged in this article as being considered, but many have voiced concerns about the effect this will have on the relationship between the College and the School of Theology. The Dean of the School of Theology and others quoted in the article believe that the current location of the School, even renovated, may not be ideal because it separates students and faculty from both schools in a way it did not before. 

Another $1.5 million is needed for this project’s renovations, and an additional $2-3 million is not necessary but ideal for amenities such as lodging for guests of the Beeken Center. Yet, according to McCardell, it remains the most sensible and cost-effective choice. Though monetary needs have produced some complications, the goal of this project is to address the needs of the School of Theology. To use a T.S. Eliot quote from McCardell’s letter, perhaps the renovation of Hamilton Hall will give the School of Theology a chance to “know the place for the first time.”