Trustees of Mercyhurst College gave college officials a 75th anniversary present on Tuesday, Oct. 2, when they approved construction bids of $7.3 million, opening the door for work to begin on a 45,000-square-foot academic building that will be the largest and most expensive structure the college has ever built.
The board also approved a name for the new structure - the Audrey Hirt Academic Center - in honor of a well-known local Mercyhurst alumna and wife of trustee emeritus F. William Hirt. Audrey Sitter Hirt, a 1949 graduate of Mercyhurst College, spearheaded the leadership for early alumni funds. A past recipient of Mercyhurst's Distinguished Alumna of the Year Award, Mrs. Hirt and her husband have been major benefactors of the college their entire married life.
The Hirt building will be the first of 37 buildings on the Mercyhurst campus to carry the name of a lay alumnus of the college.
The three-story, all-brick building was designed by Weber Murphy Fox architects and will be built by Building Systems Inc. Other Erie contractors who are involved with the construction of the center include Keystone Electric Construction Co., Mayer Brothers Inc. (concrete), Pustelak Inc. (masonry), Erie Steel Products, Alex Roofing Inc., Corporate Glass Etching, Joe B's Carpet Connection, George H. Althof Inc. (plumbing), Rabe Environmental Systems (heating and cooling), and Builders Hardware and Specialty. Completion of the project will take at least 14 months.
The new Audrey Hirt Academic Center will feature Collegiate Gothic architecture to complement the majestic Tudor style of Old Main. As its signature landmark, the Hirt Center will have a green copper dome visible from the four corners of campus. The Hirt Center will be located at East 40th Street and Briggs Avenue on land once occupied by two Baldwin Garden apartment buildings, which were demolished earlier this summer.
The $7.3 million Audrey Hirt Academic Center will be the first visual sign of the success of Mercyhurst's $20 million capital campaign, "Preserving the Legacy," which kicked off in October 2000 and recently hit the $15.3 million mark.
The Audrey Hirt Center will house an atrium, 10 classrooms, 18 faculty offices and laboratories and three or four seminar lecture rooms. The center will be the home of the education, psychology, communications and musical theatre departments, graphics laboratory and the college's Honors Program. It also will house a 244-seat recital hall/auditorium, with a 32- x 72-foot stage that will be used for lectures, movies, recitals and as a practice facility for music theatre.
The ground floor of the structure will provide a new home for the college's fine arts radio station, WMCE, as well as studios for Hurst TV and offices for the student newspaper, The Mericad. Musical theatre also will have offices on the lower floor of the building.
The Audrey Hirt Academic Center will be the third classroom structure on the Mercyhurst campus - the first being Old Main, which was built in 1926 when the college opened with 25 students; and the second being Zurn Hall of Science and Fine Arts, which opened in 1968 when Mercyhurst had an enrollment of 600 students. Today, the college's enrollment is 3,400, of which 2,800 are located on the Erie campus and another 640 on the North East campus.
"We don't just need more classrooms," said Dr. William P. Garvey, college president, noting that the college is currently using 98 percent of its available classroom space. "We need classrooms with more variety and that are more technologically advanced."
Garvey said the technology-rich building will also be the third Mercyhurst facility heated and cooled by a geothermal system in keeping with the college's pledge to environmental consciousness. Completion of the Audrey Hirt Academic Center is expected by the end of October 2002.