Donors, alumni and friends of ACU kicked off the new school year Saturday by breaking ground on a new residence hall on the site of former McDonald Hall, set to be a home for freshmen in Fall 2021.
Standing near the construction site, April (Bullock ’89) Anthony of Dallas, Texas, board chair and one of the project’s lead donors, said she could picture her second-floor McDonald room where she lived as a freshman in the 1980s.
“It’s in the residence life and in the dorms that our experiences at ACU begin, and it’s in those places our life-long relationships are founded,” Anthony said. “And it’s still to this day that in that very room, the roommate of my freshman year is part of my life, as are so many others [I met] throughout my ACU years.”
Her husband, Mark (’86), was more of a prankster his freshman year, she said, joking that his antics back then would likely get him in trouble if he were in school now. But he is just as committed to improving residence life on campus.
“We’re grateful to be donors in this project and are so grateful for the other donors who came alongside to make this project a reality, particularly now,” she said. “At a time when our nation is concerned about financial crisis, when our world is experiencing a pandemic, it says so much to see the ACU family and the ACU donor community say this is the kind of project we want to get behind. And even in a time of uncertainty, we’re going to back that ACU experience.”
Construction of the residence hall marks Phase 1 of ACU’s new Freshman Village, which will include the new residence hall and the renovation of Sewell Theatre into a Student Life Hub, a place for students to gather and student organizations to meet. In later phases, the Freshman Village project will include renovation and construction for other residence halls, and all freshman halls will be grouped along East North 16th Street. The project is one component of the university’s upcoming comprehensive campaign.
President Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) spoke about the significance of the new initiative, the first phase of a multi-year plan to update residence hall facilities to best meet the living and learning needs of ACU students.
“ACU aspires to be the best in the world, combining world-class academic education with a Christ-centered environment, and so much of that happens in community,” Schubert said. “Our residence halls are the home base where our students grow into their calling to be the Christian servants and leaders the world needs.”
The yet-to-be-named new hall will feature 128 double rooms on four floors, with eight single rooms for residence advisors and two apartments for a residence hall director and faculty in residence. Each floor will have lobby spaces, and nine study spaces will be spread throughout the 72,000-square-foot venue.
For Rick (’81) and Debbie (Rains ’80) Wessel of Westlake, Texas, also lead donors, their involvement came down to their love for Christian education.
“Debbie and I both graduated from Abilene Christian, we’ve had children graduate, and now we have five grandchildren whom we’re looking forward to possibly living in this dorm some day,” Rick Wessel said.
McDonald Hall – one of eight original structures on the hilltop campus ACU moved to in 1929 – was named for Albert “A.F.” McDonald and his wife, Cornelia Elizabeth “Neelie” (Gray) McDonald, two of Abilene Christian’s original benefactors. A.F. was one of the five founding trustees in 1906, serving until his death in 1924.
Renovations to nearby Sewell Auditorium, which has hosted countless students for Chapel services, Sing Song and ACU Theatre performances since 1930, are expected to begin early next year. Sewell is named after ACU’s fourth president, Jesse P. Sewell, and his wife, Daisy.
“In McDonald and Sewell, generations of Wildcats shared the kinds of experiences that make an ACU education truly unique,” Schubert said. “We believe the Freshman Village will similarly bless the next generation of Wildcats with the intentional, life-changing community they can only find at ACU.”
Other key donors to the project include Dale and Rita Brown of Midland, Texas; Tod (’87) and Lee Ann (Bailey ’87) Brown of Midland, Texas; Royce (’61) and Pat (Taylor ’63) Caldwell of San Antonio, Texas; Donny (’90) and Marcy (Beard ’92) Edwards of Bridgeport, Texas; Luke (’04) and Lindsay (Hines ’04) James of Dallas, Texas; Guy “Mojo” (’80) and Holly (Levack ’80) Lewis of The Woodlands, Texas; Doug (’83) and Jayne (Montgomery ’83) Orr of North Richland Hills, Texas; Barbara (Bell ’50) Packer of Dallas, Texas; Barry (’78) and Diane (Stephens ’77) Packer of Dallas, Texas; and Jack (’77) and Karen Rich of Abilene, Texas.
“I’m so grateful for the kind of people that make this journey possible,” Schubert said. ”Thank your commitment to this place and for making sure Abilene Christian University continues to fulfill our mission in deep and profound ways for future generations of students.”