Case Study :

The Catholic University of America, Father O’Connell Hall, Washington D.C.



01  Challenge


Over its 100-year presence on The Catholic University of America campus, what’s now known as Father O’Connell Hall has lived many lives – from dining hall to event space, residence hall to a much-loved student pub. Memorable for its iconic Gothic style, the building earned itself a reputation as a campus gateway and beloved symbol of student life. But despite its storied history, the building had fallen into disrepair, and in the early 2000s found itself half-vacant with partially finished and abandoned floors. What’s more, due to the lack of serious upgrades over the years, the building was not ADA compliant, and its fire and safety systems were antiquated – making this center for student life no longer safe for students.

02  Relationships


Upon accepting the job in 2012, CUA’s vice president for facilities operations also accepted the challenge of renovating Father O’Connell Hall, then called Cardinal Hall. The project was complex – both high-profile and unpredictable due to the lack of historic construction documents. Building upon the trust earned through previous successful working relationships, he reached out to MGAC to help execute on the University’s ambitious vision – engaging us to manage the full repair and renovation of the early 20th-century Gothic building.

03  Renovation


Transforming 70,000 SF of historic space in disrepair into an efficient, modern facility to serve the University’s students and alumni was complex, challenging, and exciting.

The client selected SmithGroupJJR for the design and build, and we managed the project from start to finish. In addition to adding two elevators – no small feat in a century-old structure – the team sealed a leaky basement and building envelope, elevated the building to meet ADA requirements, and developed inventive methods to incorporate fire protection piping and sprinkler heads with minimal disturbances to the historic fabric. The building’s centerpiece, Heritage Hall, presented the most restoration challenges – and exciting opportunities for innovation. Once restored with wood paneling, high ceilings featuring rosettes, intricate molding, and original bronze chandeliers, the grand room looks virtually the same as it did in the early 1900s with the functionality of a modern-day academic building.

“For a hundred years, this building has been a symbolic gateway to The Catholic University of America. For many of us, this collegiate gothic building, with its beautiful tracery windows, was one of the first things we saw when we arrived on campus. Now, Father O’Connell Hall will be the actual gateway to the University for our students.”

— John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America

04  Sustainability


The renovation of the campus’s fourth oldest building preserves the grandeur and heritage of the original structure while incorporating modern design, technology, and building systems. A LEED Certified building, its many “green” features include low-flow plumbing fixtures, energy efficient motion sensors, multi-zoned heating and cooling systems, and a green roof.

The new system provides better ventilation and is expected to contribute to 40% energy savings on cooling, 18% energy savings on heating, and over 40% energy savings on fan energy. These measures, together with a green roof, have helped the century-old building achieve LEED certification.

05  Dedication

Honoring Legacy
Upon completion, the building was renamed Father O’Connell Hall, in honor of Bishop David O’Connell, former CUA President, who introduced students to the rich intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church. We’re grateful to have been part of such an important project, to give a historic building renewed life and help future generations of students learn and serve.

project services

  • Owner’s Representation
  • Design and Planning Review
  • Team Coordination
  • Contract Review
  • Engineering Review
  • Design and Construction
  • Project Management
  • Budget/Schedule Creation and Management
  • Permit Facilitation
  • Entitlements
  • Furniture Procurement
Let Brian and his team help make your mission real.
contact us

Brian Smith

Project Manager


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