AN EXCITING period of redevelopment and modernisation is future-proofing St Mary’s University College on the Falls Road for the 21st Century student experience.
Originally opened in 1900 for the education of women students in preparation for careers in teaching, it amalgamated with the St Joseph’s College for men at Trench House under one campus on the Falls in the mid-1980s.
A new period of modernisation at the college began ten years ago and has gathered pace in recent years – Covid permitting – with further evolution in the time ahead.
“This is about future-proofing for the requirements of our user population comprising college students and staff as well as the local community and external events,” said St Mary’s Principal, Prof Peter Finn KSG.
Professor Finn stresses the importance of providing a modern campus with state-of-the-art facilities, while also balancing this by recognising his own role as being a custodian of the historically important institution adorned with Edwardian architectural features.
The college, he emphasises, also takes its role in the local community seriously by opening up its facilities and services to many groups, especially the West Belfast Partnership Board, and being one of the main venues during Féile an Phobail. A visible example of this can be seen in the replacing of the old imposing walls at the front and rear of the campus, thereby embracing the Falls Road to the front and Beechmount to the rear.
“We began the original redevelopment work back in 2012 with the Falls Road entrance and car park and then the Student Centre,” said Prof Finn.
“Today, and in line with our Strategic Plan, the focus is on the development of a new library, which will be an integration of learning spaces, exhibition and study areas, a related courtyard as well as digital technology, plus a new redesigned dining hall, new entrances and a welcome area.
“In recent years we have developed a new Student Services Centre; undertaken upgrades to teaching and learning spaces; facilities upgrades including toilets, electrics, health and safety upgrades and restoration of windows; informal break-out spaces for students and visitors; conservation work on the original brick and roof; and technological developments including new IT labs.
“All of this has involved very significant financial investment for the future,” he added.
“Our next project is to redevelop the College Hall and the adjoining main courtyard as a multi-purpose space and we are at the stage of examining options.”