Wilmette, Community

How less is more for Regina Dominican’s multi-million-dollar renovations

When Carol Ross Barney stepped back into the hallways of Regina Dominican High School, it still felt new to her.

And here’s why that’s not a good thing.

Barney entered Regina in 1962, when the Wilmette school was just four years old. Sixty years later, she saw nearly the same facilities.

Now, she is leading the way to change them.

“When I came back, it had changed so little,” said Barney, the architect on Regina’s Building Her Tomorrow redesign project. “It still looked new to me. It just needs major updates at this point.”

Regina Dominican’s plans for its $40-million facelift were unveiled during a reception on Tuesday, Sept. 13, when school leaders detailed the project and its four phases: “heart of the school,” athletics, education and performing arts.

Architect Carol Ross Barney on site of her project at Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette.

Barney is a renowned architect recognized for her work on the Chicago Riverwalk, among other projects. She was also the first female architect of a federal building (new Oklahoma City Federal Building). She was called in by school president Elizabeth Schuster to design the changes needed for a school that has strategically evolved from 1,500 students to fewer than 500.

“We are for the girl looking for a smaller environment where she’ll have more opportunities to experience things in high school,” said Joan Kitchie, the school’s vice president of advancement.

Barney is joined on the job by an all-female team, including the general contractor and design group.

With Regina’s newfound mission, Barney focused on designing spaces that catered to the school’s student-focused philosophies.

“We tried to do two things,” Barney said. “One, the building was built in 1958; it needs new electrical, mechanical, some improvement to the exterior. But beyond those things, we wanted to make it a school that would reflect their educational philosophies — a small school, an intimate school, more student-focused.”

All those things are present in the project’s already-underway first phase: a reimagining of the school’s entryway that is scheduled to be finished prior to next school year.

“The Heart of the School” is an $8.3 million phase that creates a main hub and gathering space on the first floor with “learning stairs” up to a second-floor locker bay and more gathering spaces.

Improved entry security and upgraded utilities are also part of Phase 1.

A rendering of the learning stairs and gathering spaces in the new school entryway.

Construction on the entryway was a focus of the tour during the Sept. 13 reception. Guests donned hardhats as they walked through the work site.

Other phases will prioritize different activities that occur on school grounds. The athletics facilities will get air conditioning and a new fitness center, athletic offices and roof, as well as modernized locker rooms. The education wing is set to see upgraded STEM labs and equipment and a new chapel and theology center, while the performing-arts building will be improved and given updated dance, music and theater spaces.

An environmentally forward concept is present throughout the design, Barney said. With fewer students in the same large space, Barney said it is important to make better use of the space. That also means reducing the school’s footprint, as well.

Current Regina students at the project’s reception and unveiling on Sept. 13.

“There’s too much space,” she said. “Most people think the more space the better … but the truth of the matter is it’s not too sustainable in terms of environment. If you have 160,000 square feet, you have to heat and cool 160,000 square feet. It’s much more environmentally-conscious to have the right size building.

“Eventually we will cut down on the amount of space we have, but that’s only part of it. There are classrooms designed for 30 girls sitting in rows and we need them to be rooms that reflect what we’re doing now — space that works for today’s learning.”

Fundraising for the project began in 2020 and is ongoing. So far, nearly $7 million has been raised mostly from to support the updates to Regina Dominican. Kitchie said it has been “hands down” the most successful fundraising campaign in school history.

“Everyone is stepping up,” she said. “They want to give back to Regina, want to support Regina, want to see her thrive.”

And while there is still a ways to go to hit $40 million, Barney is confident.

“We have a long road to go but we’re going to do it. We’re going to make it,” she said.

To read more about the project and to donate, visit the project’s website, www.rdbuildinghertomorrow.org.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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