Student Center Renovation

Revitalizing the Student Center

Student Center Under Construction St Johns College Santa Fe
Looking out of the Student Center onto the once empty hills surrounding it.

In the early 1960s, renowned architect and St. John’s College Board of Visitors and Governors member John Gaw Meem recruited the esteemed designer Alexander Girard to serve as the interior designer for what would soon become the central hub of the Santa Fe campus and, eventually, a destination for Girard fans from across the world: the Peterson Student Center. Built in the Territorial Revival style that Meem was renowned for and filled with Girard’s trademark design—colorful murals, whimsical lighting fixtures, distinctive furniture designs, and more—the center holds a defining space in the memories and experiences of the thousands of students, faculty, staff, and visitors who have passed through its doors.

In 1970, college leadership named the Student Center “The Duane L. and Clementine Peterson Student Center” to honor the service and philanthropic contributions of the Petersons to St. John’s. Both Duane and Clementine Peterson both served on the St. John’s College Board of Visitors and Governors for many years, with Clementine serving from the early 1960s into the 1990s. In addition to their generosity to St. John’s, the Petersons were renowned philanthropists in the Baltimore community and throughout Maryland.

But over the course of the 60 years since its construction, time has taken its toll on the Student Center, which houses the Great Hall, Bookstore, Dining Hall, Coffee Shop, The Cave, art gallery, junior and senior common rooms, switchboard, public safety offices and small group meeting spaces. Infrastructure improvements are needed to bring the building up to modern-day standards and codes. And from a cosmetic standpoint, the center desperately needs a facelift—but a sophisticated one befitting the strict historic preservation requirements that the building is required to meet due to its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, New Mexico’s State Register of Cultural Properties, and the Historic Santa Fe Foundation’s Register of Properties Worthy of Preservation.  

Student walking in front of unfinished Girard mural Student Center St Johns College
Student walking in front of unfinished Girard mural in the Student Center.

Thanks to the Jay Pritzker Foundation, the Student Center will finally undergo a full-scale renovation to address historic preservation and beautification needs, expand and create after-hour spaces for students to study and socialize, and upgrade the building’s entire infrastructure with an eye toward energy efficiency and sustainability. The revitalization funds are part of the college’s new Pritzker Challenge, a $25 million challenge grant aimed at bringing in $75 million over the next 10 years for improvements on both St. John’s college campuses. More information on the challenge is below.

Historic Preservation and Beautification

Great Hall Student Center St Johns College Santa Fe
The Great Hall in the Student Center will be revitalized.

The college is working with Santa Fe’s Historic District Review Board to approve a plan that will both preserve and beautify the Student Center, with particular attention paid to:

  • The preservation and renewal of Alexander Girard’s designs, furniture, textiles, and art
  • The revitalization of the Great Hall including stage expansion and beautification
  • The preservation of the Territorial Revival style of the building’s exterior while undergoing building expansion

Expansion of the Student Center

Coffee Shop Student Center St Johns College Santa Fe
Newly designed and renovated spaces will increase the number of places to study, relax, and socialize.

A common complaint of students is that there are not any consistently open, and after-hours, spaces on campus to study and socialize. The Bookstore, Great Hall, and junior and senior common rooms are often in use when students need to study or want to get out of the residence halls. The Coffee Shop can serve this need but is often overcrowded and noisy. This issue especially affects the college’s off-campus students and those who live on campus but do not have the ability to drive off-campus. To address these concerns, the renovation proposes two new student spaces and an improvement on two others, pending Historic District Review Board approval:

Bookstore Student Center St Johns College Santa Fe
The Bookstore will be expanded.
  • On the ground floor, a section of Schepp’s Garden will be enclosed as a student lounge.
  • On the second floor, the east mountain-facing balcony will be enclosed and integrated into the flow of the building. This will create an after-hours space on the second floor.
  • The Bookstore will be expanded and a pass-through created to the Coffee Shop, integrating the two spaces and better utilizing existing Coffee Shop space.
  • The Cave, which is a student-run, after-hour venues for music jams, poetry readings, and more, will be upgraded.

Infrastructure Upgrades

Art Gallery Student Center St Johns College Santa Fe
A new second-floor safety exit will allow higher occupancy rates in the Great Hall, art gallery, and common rooms.

It is imperative that the Student Center’s aging infrastructure is updated and safety measures are brought up to current standards. Part of the renovation will:

  • Build a second-floor safety exit that leads directly outside, which will allow the college to raise its occupancy rates in the Great Hall, art gallery, and common rooms
  • Replace and upgrade the HVAC, electrical, plumbing and lighting systems, all with an eye towards energy efficiency and sustainability
  • Upgrade the infrastructure of current bathrooms and commercial kitchens
  • Add new ADA-accessible entryways and exits as well as additional safety exits
  • Replace the commercial elevator, which is in poor working condition

Looking Ahead: Additional Campus Improvements

Like most campuses across America, St. John’s College faced a multimillion-dollar infrastructure challenge—until the Jay Pritzker Foundation made its $25 million St. John’s College investment through the Pritzker Challenge.  The college’s renovation of the Student Center is just one phase of the challenge, which provides to St. John’s a decade of funds with which to focus on collegewide campus improvements. In Annapolis, the renovation of Campbell Hall and the Francis Scott Key wing of Mellon Hall are underway; once Mellon is completed, the next priority will be the residence halls, many of which have been in need of repair for far too long.  

Help us reach our goal: for every donation to our capital improvement projects over the next ten years, the Jay Pritzker Foundation will match one dollar for every two dollars raised, up to $25 million. We hope you will help us get there.

Viewing Girard’s Work at St. John's College

The Pritzker Student Center of St. John’s College is open to the public seven days a week. Please feel free to wander the halls of the Student Center, visit the campus Coffee Shop and Bookstore, and see Alexander Girard’s legacy at St. John’s College firsthand. Visitor parking is available free of charge in the first lot to the left as you enter the campus off Camino de Cruz Blanca (a three-minute drive or one bus stop away from Museum Hill). A one-minute walk from the visitor parking lot will bring you to the campus’s central Placita. As you ascend the steps to the Placita and the Fish Pond, Pritzker Student Center will be the large building with three sets of doors on your right. Among the items to look for as you tour the building: