Committee to Decide Fate of Benilde Hall

Coach Matt Pinero oversees a class of students in St. Paul's library. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

Coach Matt Pinero oversees a class of students in St. Paul’s library, which currently occupies the majority of the second floor of Benilde Hall. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

(COVINGTON, La.) — At a recent faculty meeting, Principal Trevor Watkins announced plans to form a committee to take on the subject of renovating the school’s underused library and other facilities in Benilde Hall.

“We are very much in the preliminary stages of this,” Watkins said. “I have been very concerned with our library for many years now, not because I do not think it is a good library, but because our students do not use it in a traditional library sense, in the way that libraries used to be used.”

Among the reasons cited for a renovation and re-purposing of the facility was the use, or lack thereof, of the library’s books. During the 2014-2015 school year, only twelve books have been checked out of the entire circulation.

“That does not mean we do not need a library in our school; we do,” Watkins said. “The question is, ‘what kind of library do we need based on the way our students are currently reading?’.”

Watkins wants the library to meet the needs of students and has planned various additions and improvements. In addition to the committee, Watkins is putting in his own time to research better ways to use the library space.

“I have noticed that students spend a lot of time in places like coffee shops reading,” Watkins said. “So, why not have a coffee shop in our library? I want the library to perhaps be a little bit more comfortable; a place where you can go and sit in a comfortable chair in a nice atmosphere. Libraries are meeting places for students. So I want to create some comfortable meeting spaces where you can not just read, but discuss books.”

Juniors Bradley Yaeger and Stevie Van Zandt agree with Watkins’ coffee shop proposal, and also share the sentiment that it is time for the library to receive an update for the students’ advantage.

“(I would like) a dark area with some lights where (students) could chill and relax,” Yaeger said. “School can be stressful, so going back there and being able to chill (would be great).”

“There are books back there that haven’t been checked out since 1995,” Van Zandt said. “We can clear (some of those) out and make it a really cool space that people can respect and enjoy.”

The improvements will not just be limited to the library space’s use, however. The room’s own boundaries could become subject to change, as well.

“Benilde Hall sits smack in the middle of our very beautiful campus,” Watkins said, “and yet, when you are in Benilde Hall on the second and third floors, you can not see out. I would like to blow out some walls so that you can get a view of (the campus) from the second and third floors.”

St. Paul's campus sits panoramically framed by the pines of Covington. Watkins expects views like this to be accessible in more places in Benilde Hall. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

St. Paul’s campus sits panoramically framed by the pines of Covington. Watkins expects views like this to be accessible in more places in Benilde Hall. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

Renovations are expected to spread all around the campus’ largest building, including structural changes. Among the changes are restroom updates and changes to classrooms that, according to Watkins, could be “significantly upgraded.”

“We want to add better access to the second and third floors,” Watkins said. “We need to get an elevator in there somewhere.”

Benilde Hall is the only multi-story building on campus lacking an elevator. Additionally, an exterior facelift as extreme as LaSalle Hall’s is not likely.

“The brick on it has done very well over the years,” Watkins said. “One of the reasons why we had to make the improvement to LaSalle Hall was that the original design of the brick allowed for water to come into the building. We do not have that problem with Benilde Hall.”

Campus construction and cosmetic facelifts have been almost nonstop since the new gym was announced. Once construction on the new gym is completed, Watkins also expects the old gym to see renovations. The wrestling space is expected to move into the basketball area of the old gym, and the weight room will move to the adjacent current wrestling gym.

The current wrestling gym provides plentiful space for a first-class workout room. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

The current wrestling gym provides plentiful space for a first-class workout room. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

The weight room's space is satisfactory for the athletic programs now, but could see exponential improvement in the current wrestling gym. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

The weight room’s space is satisfactory for the athletic programs now, but could see exponential improvement in the current wrestling gym. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

“We could roll up those wrestling mats and have two basketball games going on at the same time,” Watkins said. “Wrestling, for example, for a big meet that they are hosting, could use both gyms (as well). Now that they have the space, all kinds of things are possible.”

Watkins sees these projects as ongoing throughout 2016, and cites that if 2017 is the planned time for the library renovations to occur, planning must begin now.

“I would like to get together a group of teachers and students to have a big ‘envisioning meeting’ where students could say ‘here is what I would like in a library.’,” Watkins said. “It takes about a year or two of planning before work actually begins.”

Julian Rodrigue, Seth Dragon, Cam Cole, Cade Cowen, and Robby Darrah utilize the weight room during P.E. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

Julian Rodrigue, Seth Dragon, Cam Cole, Cade Cowen, and Robby Darrah utilize the weight room during P.E. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

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