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Understanding history while innovating the future

By Kris Leonhardt


A rendering of the 45,000-square-foot Donald & Patricia Schneider Family Hall. Submitting rendering

DE PERE – A historic property on the St. Norbert College (SNC) campus will soon take on new life.

The high-visibility property along the banks of the Fox River at the western end of the Claude Allouez bridge — which once housed Pennings High School and today is home to the Pennings Activity Center — will take on a new role at the campus as the “Donald & Patricia Schneider Family Hall.”

The new facility was made possible by a gift from the Schneider family and will be home to the Donald J. Schneider School of Business & Economics.

 “We are honored and humbled by this significant gift from the Schneider family, and we continue to be thankful for their deep commitment to advancing our students and so many others throughout our community,” said Thomas Kunkel, interim president of St. Norbert College. “Their gift will help St. Norbert College strengthen its central role in the northeast Wisconsin business community, and it will spark many new opportunities for those who live, learn and work here.”

The 45,000-square-foot structure will include “classrooms and workspaces designed for contemporary learning, space for executive education and conferencing opportunities, and a connected terrace for gathering along the Fox River. It will be home to the college’s undergraduate and graduate business and economics programs, including data analytics and a new sports management program that launches in the fall,” a release from the college stated.

“This is a transformational gift for any number of reasons, but primarily because the business and econ program is one of our most important and popular, and the demand for these majors by our students is only going to grow in coming years. To be able to house these classes in one beautiful and transparent building, along with our MBA program, executive training at the Center for Exceptional Leadership, conferencing with local and regional businesses, etc., will be a significant development for SNC. It will be a major engine for our future, and it will take an already outstanding academic program to an entirely new level,” Kunkel explained.

“In addition, Donald & Patricia Schneider Family Hall will also be a ‘signature’ building right at the most visible corner of our campus, and it will go a long way toward better integrating the campus into the larger De Pere community.”

In order to create the engine of the future, however, a piece of the past will soon disappear.

Pennings High School was constructed as Nicolet High School in 1923 and became part of the West De Pere School District. Kris Leonhardt photo

“The building that has occupied that corner has been an important part of the De Pere community for a century — first as Nicolet High School, then as Pennings High School and finally as our Pennings Activity Center. It has touched thousands of lives in a very positive way, and we know that many of our friends and alumni remain emotionally connected to it. But they also realize that its systems are outdated and inefficient and that with so many elevations under one roof it has defied our various efforts to repurpose or dramatically renovate it. We are working on plans for the community to be able to come by and pay its respects to the building, probably in conjunction with SNC Day in September. The old Nicolet/Pennings High will also be memorialized in the new building,” Kunkel said.

The historic building was constructed as Nicolet High School in 1923 and became part of the West De Pere School District.

In 1959, the school building was purchased by the Norbertines and it became Abbot Pennings High School in recognition of St. Norbert College’s founder.

“We are very good at respecting history around here — the Norbertines are nine centuries old, after all — and that’s how we will treat this project,” Kunkel added.

Work will begin on the new facility this winter and is expected to be completed in time for fall 2025 classes.

Miron Construction will serve as general contractor for the project, and Workshop Architects of Milwaukee is completing the design work.

The college also announced that Boyle Hall will undergo a “major renovation.”

“This work will be done in several phases, and the initial piece will focus on enhancing classrooms on the building’s first two floors. Built in 1917, Boyle Hall was one of the first buildings on the St. Norbert College campus. Today it hosts the college’s humanities and social sciences disciplines, including theology, history and education,” a release from the college stated.

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