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JE Dunn building $7M home for relocating seminary

Queens University of Charlotte’s growth has spurred the creation of a new campus – and construction jobs – in the Queen City.

Union Presbyterian Seminary, a 200-year-old divinity school based in Richmond, Va., has been leasing 7,000 square feet of office space and using vacant classrooms at Queens since 2001. But Queens, which wants to increase its enrollment, is taking back that space this summer.

Now, the seminary is building its own campus in Charlotte. The $7 million, 22,000-square-foot building will be on two acres donated – technically, being leased at $1 a year for 70 years – by Sharon Presbyterian Church.

Union Presbyterian Seminary

Construction is under way on a new $7 million, 22,000-square foot home in SouthPark for Union Presbyterian Seminary, which is relocating from Queens University. JE Dunn Construction is the building contractor. Photo by Scott Baughman

The church is just a stone’s throw from the intersection of Sharon and Fairview roads in the heart of SouthPark.

“We wanted to be located close to a church. It symbolizes our desire to be close to ‘The Church,’” Thomas Currie, dean of the Charlotte campus, said.

In September, contractor JE Dunn Construction of Charlotte began work on the wood-frame building with a masonry exterior. Completion is expected this fall. About 40 to 60 workers are on the site every day.

Designed by Stan Rostas of Shook Kelley, the building will feature offices, three classrooms – all wired for videoconferencing and long-distance learning with dedicated telecommunications equipment – a 50,000-volume library, meeting space, a chapel and a lobby area with a fireplace.

“We were able to clearly tell the architect what we wanted, so it made the conversation rich,” said Susan Hickock, associate vice president for advancement at the Charlotte campus.

“We wanted to honor the rich tradition of the Richmond campus, but also to speak to Charlotte,” she added. “We wanted to pay homage to the church but also create a new exciting home for the campus.

Many of our students have long commutes, so we wanted the school to have a sense of place and a sense of home so they can have a sense of ownership and pride.”

Construction has not been without challenges. Half the site’s stormwater collected in the corner where the seminary is being built, said Kevin Dagenhart, a project manager with Binswanger, which acts as the owners representative for the seminary. To deal with that issue, a complex, underground stormwater-detention system was constructed under the building.

The brick used in the building is the same as that used on the Richmond campus, and architectural elements complement that of the adjacent church. Some of the furniture will be brought from the Richmond campus, as well as panes of antique stained glass. Burlington-based Forbis’ Stained Glass has been hired to install it. An artisan will be hired to create the cross that will be put at the entrance to the seminary.

For Dagenhart, the project has been similar to the commercial jobs he has worked on over the past 12 years, except for one thing.

“With a typical commercial project, you report to just a few people,” he said. “But with the seminary, you’re reporting to a larger group of people who are interested in the project: the board, donors, people from Sharon Presbyterian and people from the Richmond and Charlotte campuses. I enjoy both ways.”

The seminary has 75 students, all part-time, and offers three degrees: a master of divinity, which leads to ordination; a master’s in Christian education; and a combined degree. Since 2001, the Charlotte campus has graduated 73 students now serving in 46 churches in seven Southeastern states and South Korea.

With a home of its own, the seminary is preparing to expand its offerings and increase enrollment. Hickock said the school might add a doctorate ministry program.

Because it shared classroom space at Queens, the school could only offer classes at night and on weekends. But weekday classes will now be offered. Another benefit will be more accessible parking. The four full-time and one part-time faculty members will also now have on-site offices.

There will also be collaboration and synergy among other nearby facilities, both on and off campus. Seminary students will use the Sharon Presbyterian sanctuary, and the church will hold classes in the seminary building Sunday mornings. The Presbyterian Samaritan Counseling Center is also on the site, as well as a church-run preschool. Sharon Towers, a retirement center affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, is across the street.

“We’re glad and excited that that the new campus will allow us to have a permanent identity in Charlotte. We want to be a contributing part of the community,” Currie said.

Others share that vision. Sharon Presbyterian approached the seminary when it heard the school was looking for a new home.

“This will greatly benefit the life of the church,” said Robert Blumer, pastor. “For one thing, it means we will have access to a large library right out the back door for rigorous Bible study classes.”

So far, about $4.5 million has been raised for the construction. “Raising money has been a big challenge,” Currie said. “But we have found very generous friends in Charlotte and elsewhere who believe in the future of theological education and its importance to the church.”


A look at Union Presbyterian Seminary’s new SouthPark building

Building contractor:
JE Dunn Construction

Construction costs: $7 million

Square footage: 22,000

Expected completion: Fall

Source: Mecklenburg Times staff research

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