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UDC member Dick Wagner reviews proposals Wednesday. The St. Paul student center was sent back for work.[/media-credit]

The city’s Urban Design Commission expressed concerns Wednesday regarding proposed renovations to the St. Paul’s University Catholic Center that would expand the site to allow for increased student use and functionality.

The proposed six-story facility would go beyond simply being a chapel, said Bob Krupa, spokesperson for RDG Planning & Design, which is overseeing the project.

“This is not simply a church but an ecclesiastical building with four parts,” he said. “A chapel, a student center, living quarters for staff and an educational facility.”

He said the center would be accessible to all students, regardless of religion.

The commission voted to continue discussing the project in the future rather than grant it initial approval, saying developers needed to give major considerations to elements of the design before moving forward.

Members’ concerns echoed city officials’ past worries the complex and ornate design of the new facility would take away from the historic State Street block, particularly the landmark Presbyterian House adjacent to St. Paul’s.

Randy Milbrath, also representing RDG, said the new building would obstruct views from the top one or two floors of Pres House but added talks with the apartments received no complaints.

“We’ve been in open discussion with [Pres House],” he said. “We’ve entered a verbal agreement – they’re understanding that that’s the scenario we’re in. The design does not adversely affect Pres House.”

Members also expressed concern that the building’s design would be too much for the architecturally simple block.

“We’re intending for a landmark type of building,” Milbrath said. “There’s [a] historic precedent to what we’re using as architecture. There’s a level of detail and range of color and material that we looked to for influence on what we’re doing here.”

He said the building’s design was inspired by famed churches St. Bartholomew’s, Christ Methodist and Trinity Church.

That emphasis on traditional design, he said, led developers to reject UDC’s initial suggestion to remove some of the windows from the design.

“Look at other historic buildings in the area,” he said. “We need as much natural light and ventilation as possible. Some of those windows open into offices.”

Milbrath said city officials and Madison residents had been concerned the building would block views of the Capitol and the downtown area. He added, however, RDG had taken test photos to dispel those concerns.

“St. Paul’s doesn’t impact the view corridor from Bascom Hill or block the view of the Capitol in any way, from any angle,” he said. “We’ve also negotiated with neighbors about this.”

Commission members also showed concern that the facility would have insufficient bike, moped and vehicle parking, a factor Milbrath and Krupa agreed to consider before returning to UDC.

Ultimately, however, attorney Richard Trachtenberg said the renovations were necessary to allow for a welcoming building for students, faculty and staff.

“Right now, the chapel is the coldest, most uninviting space on planet earth,” he said. “It has meaning for people who like it, but as a student center, it wouldn’t work. You’d end up demolishing the whole interior.”

In an article about remodeling to St. Paul’s University Catholic Center, published on December 8, project architect Randy Milbrath was quoted as saying, “Right now, the chapel is the coldest, most uninviting space on the planet earth. It has meaning for people who like it, but as a student center it wouldn’t work. You’d end up demolishing the whole interior.” The quote should have been attributed to attorney Richard Trachtenberg. We apologize for the error.

Furthermore, the description of the chapel was a description of its brutalist architectural style, similar to the style of the Humanities building on campus. Trachtenberg noted that although the brutalist style is not conducive to a warm and inviting place, the chapel holds significant meaning for many in the campus community.