After months of anticipating a decision, Loras students, faculty, and staff now know the next step for the fire-damaged campus building. In a press release earlier this week, Loras announced they will level the north building of the Visitation Complex, while the south building will remain fully operational. This step will take place after a timeline has been established for demolition.
The Visitation Complex, a 126 year-old piece of Loras’ history and Loras’ only off-campus building, was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm during the early hours of March 16 of the previous school year. Employees of Radio Dubuque, who work across the street from the building, noticed the fire and proceeded to enter the building and bang on doors to help residents get out. All students and staff who were in the building at the time of the fire were accounted for and got out of the building safely.
Ever since the fire, the building has sat empty and exposed to weather while members of the Loras community waited for a decision.
“As an administrator, I’m pleased that we at least have a solution and an outcome,” Loras President Jim Collins said. “Personally, I’m a little bit sad because it would have been nice to have rebuilt. But what’s most important is that our students and staff were physically unharmed after the fire.”
President Collins and the Loras Board of Regents have been working diligently with insurance carriers to map out a plan for the building. Initially, many members wanted to rebuild the structure and see if it could become fully operational again. This would require repairing the interior of the building in addition to the missing roof. However, the cost of restoring the building is much greater than the money available through the insurance policy Loras has, Collins added.
The complex was originally built as the Visitation Academy and Convent, which closed in 1970. From there, the Sisters of the Visitation occupied it until Loras bought the property in 1994. Loras officials will present the Visitation Sisters with the cupola’s metal cross, as well as a keepsake box. Additionally, Loras plans to repurpose some brick from the building into the main campus to preserve part of and commemorate the building, Collins said.
Ever since the purchase of the complex, the building has been used for dual purposes: housing students as well as the music and art departments. Although classes are only offered in the south building, many students wish there was a different outcome for the north building even if they have not lived there before.
“I really wish they weren’t tearing it down since it’s such a historical building, but the school waited too long to do anything so there is probably a lot of mold and such inside which would be hard to fix,” sophomore Marcus Mills said.
Like Mills, many students were hoping for a quicker decision to be made. Junior Adrienne Pearson, however, says there are bigger things to be concerned about.
“It’s no surprise that they were going to tear it down eventually,” Pearson said. “The real concern is about the future of the music department and the students currently living there.”
During the months that followed the fire, Loras launched a “Loras Strong” campaign that centered on helping the displaced students affected by the fire. Donations of clothing, food, bedding, gift cards, school supplies, and other items poured in for months, providing students with some means to begin to rebuild what they had lost in the fire.
“Even though I lived in the south building when the fire happened, walking past the north building every day is a reminder of the trauma that everyone experienced,” senior Lindsay Hottovy said. Hottovy was one of 44 students displaced during the spring semester and into additional Loras housing.
As part of the Loras Strong campaign, a Visitation Fire Fund was established and raised over $46,000 in a matter of months. The money raised from this fund went towards students who were impacted by the fire. Donations came not just from the Loras community, but also from those in the Dubuque community.
While many students are sad to see the building go, one emotion resonates with a large amount of Loras’ student body: reconciliation.
“I have very good friends who lived in the top floor apartment and saw how they recovered from the aftermath of the fire,” senior Benjy Miller said. “The building deserves respect and proper treatment, and if we are unable to give it that right now, then it is best not to give partial effort to something that deserves so much more.”