Southwestern boldly enters its 183rd year with an ambitious series of construction and renovation projects that underscore the university’s commitment to advancing the liberal arts in the 21st century.

“We’re reinvesting in the institution,” President Laura Skandera Trombley says of the $120 million in projects planned over the next three years. “These projects will help us remain competitive and continue to attract the best students, faculty, and staff.”

Funding will come from a combination of sources, including an $80 million long-term bond the University issued last summer, $20 million coming from major maintenance funds, and another $20 million from philanthropy.

Living and Learning

Research shows that students who live on campus have higher grade-point averages, are more likely to graduate, and achieve greater personal growth—positive outcomes that prompted the Board of Trustees in 2020 to support raising the residency requirement from two to three years. To meet this standard, the University will begin work this spring on two new mixed-use residence halls that will be ready for the fall 2025 semester.

“Learning will be magnified both academically and socially. We are doing all we can to help students come together, live together, and learn together.”

More than just housing, these residence halls are specially designed to enhance the student experience, featuring classrooms and study rooms that integrate living and learning. They include lounges, workout rooms, and other gathering spaces to help students stay healthy and active while making connections and building friendships.

“Learning will be magnified both academically and socially,” says Brit Katz, interim vice president for Student Life. “We are doing all we can to help students come together, live together, and learn together.”

Designed to LEED Gold standards that make buildings more sustainable for people and the environment, the new residence halls will support students’ physical and mental well-being. Each hall will have a coffee and sandwich cafe and mini market where students can grab a midnight snack or fix themselves a quick meal. Fitness spaces will include traditional equipment like weights and treadmills, as well as a yoga and pilates room.

“We want students to start practicing wellness and creating a regular exercise schedule the minute they step onto campus,” Trombley says. “We know this will help them perform better in their classes and lead happier healthier lives.”

One of the new residence halls will house second-year students and will be located north of the Red & Charline McCombs Campus Center. The other residence hall, to be located near a new University Avenue entrance on the east side of campus, will be specially designed to serve the needs of first-year students. Located next to a new welcome center that will house the Admission and Financial Aid offices as well as a bookstore and art gallery. This proximity will help visiting students and their families get a feel for residential campus life and will be convenient for new students as they navigate their first year of college.

“It will basically be a one-stop shop for students,” Vice President for Strategic Recruitment and Enrollment Tom Delahunt says. “The financial aid counselors are right there, the bookstore is right there, and the admission counselor who helped introduce them to Southwestern in the first place is right there. Everything students need will be in one place for them.”

Supporting Student-Athletes

On November 4, 1950, the SU Pirates defeated Austin College 27-7—it was the last time football was played on Southwestern’s campus (the team has used Georgetown ISD’s Birkelbach Field for the past decade). Plans are now in the works to create a new mixed-use athletics complex on the current football practice field site that will bring football back to campus and provide a new venue for special events, including Commencement. Ample parking, including space for tailgating, will be available.

“Our new stadium project will generate a great deal of excitement on campus and in the community,” says Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Ken Ralph. “Not only will our football program have an outstanding venue to call home, we will be able to use the stadium to provide a new campus gathering point, provide a better connection to the community, and serve as a place to invite outside users to our campus. Football Saturdays are always special, and it is exciting to think we will shortly bring that energy and passion back to our campus.”

Renovations and Modernizations

In addition to building new spaces, the University is transforming older ones. Some projects, such as the installation of a new chilled water loop and the re-leveling of the A. Frank Smith Jr. Library Center, might not seem particularly compelling but are critical improvements, as are renovations to McCombs Campus Center ballrooms and Mabee Residence Hall, which looked like a new building to students returning to campus last fall. Still, other projects, such as the renovation of Mood-Bridwell Hall, will breathe new life into a beloved landmark.

“We are taking the historic core and adapting it to truly reflect the Paideia philosophy of making connections…”

The second-oldest building on campus and home to the Brown College of Arts and Sciences, Mood-Bridwell will be completely renovated inside and out. While honoring its historic character, the building’s interior will be redesigned to include community gathering and performance spaces, classrooms, and a coffeehouse. The upper terrace, a beloved gathering place for many years, will be reopened for outdoor classroom use and social events.

“We are taking the historic core and adapting it to truly reflect the Paideia philosophy of making connections with collaborative spaces for students and faculty across the humanities and social sciences,” says Dean of Faculty Alisa Gaunder. “The atrium, in particular, is a treasured feature that will be enhanced to facilitate such endeavors whether it be capstone presentations, invited lectures or student organization or department activities.”

The renovation is being funded largely by donors, including the Brown Foundation, which contributed $4 million to the project, and the J.E. and L. E. Mabee Foundation, which issued a $2.9 million challenge grant to encourage additional donations. Work is scheduled to begin this May, with completion in August 2024.

The green spaces between the buildings have also received new life. The devastating 2021 “Snowpocalypse” damaged a large number of trees, shrubs, and other plantings, prompting a reassessment of the campus landscape. A landscaping master plan has been developed that maximizes the myriad benefits—aesthetic, environmental, and educational—of a healthy and vibrant campus landscape.

The master plan addresses unique spaces on campus but also considers the identity and purpose of the entire landscape, including a sustainable approach that employs water-wise plantings and creates meaningful connections to the surrounding community.

Community and Collaboration

These projects aren’t just about building new or better facilities; they’re also about building community. Students, faculty, and staff will have new opportunities to connect with each other and with residents of Georgetown and other area communities. Visitors will find countless opportunities for entertainment and lifelong learning—theatrical productions, musical performances, symposiums, exhibits, lectures, and action from more than twenty sports. A new food vendor, Aramark, has also brought Sunday brunch back to campus, inviting visitors to gather with friends and family in the heart of campus at the Mabee Commons.

“These efforts will strengthen our long-term partnership with the City of Georgetown,” Trombley says. “Many of our students already participate in community-engaged learning opportunities. Now we’re moving to more fully engage with the residents of Georgetown by inviting them to attend events at Southwestern and encouraging them to visit campus.”