“All had gone now and we looked to see our abode [on the steamer “Avoca”]…the last bell had been rung. It was proposed we should go on deck, each took her shawl and ascended. There we were, a spectacle to angels and men, standing, I may say alone, for no one thought of intruding on the other’s grief. Fr O’Carroll and our fellow travellers came and said a few words; our eyes then turned on our beloved home; the Belfry could be seen for a long time. We strained our eyes as long as we could till at last it disappeared forever from our sight, but never, never from our hearts”.
(Martha Birnie’s journal)
These heartfelt words capture the mix of emotions of our eight pioneering Dominican Sisters as they departed Ireland 150 years ago this month. They were to travel to Maitland NSW to set up St Mary’s Catholic Dominican school. Their faith, courage, and sadness, still speak to us today as we acknowledge and celebrate this important anniversary. The three-month voyage itself was challenging but they were heading off to a completely unknown world, and forever leaving behind families, friends and homeland. The story of our pioneering Sisters is inspirational, and it is the establishment of the Dominican School at Maitland that 25 years later saw the beginning of our own place, Santa Sabina College.
A sense of place has always been vital and visceral at Santa Sabina – students, staff and parents have a real sense of its significance as they walk through the beautiful grounds, pray in the chapel, listen to music in Holyrood, or simply appreciate the space we have despite our proximity to a very densely populated city. We work hard to maintain the beauty of our campus and grounds, but it is always exciting to create something new. It has been some time since a major building project has occurred on the secondary campus with the Thomas Aquinas Centre (completed in 2004) being the most recent. And while we’re not about to build something brand new, we are in the midst of a renovation as the current Santa Sabina hall area turns into the “new” Siena Senior Centre. It will be a multi-stage project but we are making a start.
The existing Santa Sabina College Assembly Hall has been the subject of a number of unsuccessful grant applications to undertake refurbishment either in part or whole in recent years. This area of the College had long been identified as in need of such refurbishment, and while it has been well-maintained, it has serious limitations for contemporary learning and overall College use.
Issues identified include:
- restricted access and lack of connections
- isolation of the existing Hall from other parts of the campus
- poor quality of space, acoustics and light that mean staff and students don’t like using the Level 1 spaces
- poor connections between inside and outside spaces
- “front door” not addressed within College – feels like more of the back of the building within the campus
- lack of cohesion with other campus buildings
- lack of flexibility in size and uses of spaces.
In 2013 the College commissioned an architectural firm, pmdl, to undertake an overall refurbishment and upgrade study that would enable a staged implementation. These different stages include:
- Stage 1: the outside landscaped amphitheatre and readdressing of the hall opening to St Dominic’s plot
- Stage 2: a quality learning environment on Level 1 to include a variety of learning spaces together with a new Senior Centre, maximising light and access with strong external connections
- Stage 3: creation of external learning “courts” on the southern side of the building and lift access to the hall
- Stage 4: a flexible, agile group space at the Hall level providing opportunities for exams, celebrations, group gatherings of different sizes and community uses.
Stage 1 – the landscaped amphitheatre – is currently under construction. Despite the significant amount of rain-delayed time we hope that this will be completed in Term 3, shortly after St Dominic’s Day. The images below will hopefully assist you to visualise the transformation of the area which will be used as an external learning and performance area, as well as reinforcing a respect for the heart of the school – St Dominic’s plot.
In 2016, the College was finally successful in receiving a grant of $500,000 from the AIS Block Grant Authority to support the total cost of Stage 2 of the project. This work will commence after the Higher School Certificate Exams this year. Hopefully this means that senior students will occupy the new learning spaces early in 2018. The spaces will be diverse in size, and flexible in use, with operable walls that can either open up spaces or divide areas for seminar style classes. Seniors will have their common room and relaxation areas located there as well. A “hole in the wall” café, operated by Bon Appetit, will service students as well as other members of the community. This will be known as Dom’s Café as it looks onto St Dominic’s plot.
Like all families in the midst of renovations, we grow impatient, grumble when it rains, and get excited when recognisably new shapes and structures emerge. Most importantly we look forward to the opportunities the Siena Centre will offer our students. Keep watching!
Dr Maree Herrett