POSTED ON DECEMBER 21, 2011:
Whole Lot A Shakin' Goin' On
Common bonds and faithful friends help rebuild a national treasure
Romantic music filled the air, young college love blossomed under sparkling decorations, faculty leisurely strolled through the room -- the earth suddenly felt as if it were trembling under foot.
Though the homecoming dance at St. Gregory's University (SGU) was likely a festive event and one that procured excitement from campus-dwellers, the night of Nov. 5 introduced a different earth-trembling phenomenon that faculty and students hadn't expected.
At 10:53pm a 5.6 magnitude earthquake, the strongest on Oklahoma record, shook Shawnee, Okla. and the resident university. Many homes and businesses in the area were damaged but SGU's iconic Benedictine Hall, a national historic landmark built in 1915, requires approximately $2.5 million to restore, according to Brad Collins, director of Public Relations & Publications.
Before the earthquake, four turrets -- or towers -- stretched toward the sky, and extended from the beautifully crafted, turn of the century architecture.
"One tower collapsed. The other three were badly damaged and are in danger of falling. A hole in the building's roof has been covered pending further repairs," a Nov. 7 press release stated.
Collins says that Phase One of the restoration is now complete and Phase Two is about to begin.
"Phase One was to remove the damaged turrets from the building. One of the turrets on top of the building collapsed (during the earthquake) and the other three had large cracks and had damage. They all had to come down because it wasn't safe," Collins said. "For Phase Two, we're going to start looking at rebuilding the turrets, which is a pretty expensive endeavor.
"We're in the process of setting up Benedictine Hall Restoration Fund," Collins said. "We've had a few pledges and some large donations. We're not naming anyone but we've had alums from all different years, friends of the university, Catholics, everyone step forward with gifts."
Gov. Mary Fallin requested a federal disaster declaration in lieu of damage done by a series of earthquakes in the state, but the request was denied. SGU can still apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration. Collins says this is something they are taking into consideration.
As the center of the campus and a noticeable part of Shawnee's skyline, Benedictine Hall, aka: "the castle", is an intricate part of SGU's college experience. Even though most of the university's classrooms and administrative offices -- including the campus library -- are housed within Benedictine Hall, causing disruption for regularly scheduled classes and recent finals, the experience has not been completely negative.
"It wasn't really traumatic," said Conner Maguire, an English education junior at St. Gregory's. "It happened during our homecoming dance. We were in the Rockwood Center when the earthquake hit...someone ran outside and one of the towers was gone. There were a few freak-outs but we were just happy no one was hurt."
St. Gregory's has garnered national attention since the earthquake rocked the small campus. After the initial quake, faculty and staff pulled together in an effort to complete the semester successfully -- creating an unexpected bond between professors, administrative staff and students.
"You can't buy the media coverage that we've received -- people from the New York Times, LA Times and Washington Post," Collins said. "It's a not so great situation but it still can be a positive for us. It's reconnected a lot of people who have been disconnected for a while. It's brought the faculty, staff and students together since we've all been cramped together in the student union. So, we've all become close too."
For more information on St. Gregory's University and to donate to the Benedictine Hall Restoration Fund, visit stgregorys.edu.
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