Aquinas to purchase Welch College campus

Transition will require 18 months, allow Welch to relocate to Gallatin

Aquinas College officials announced today plans to purchase the Welch College campus property located in the historic Richland-West End neighborhood.

Financial terms of the looming transaction were not disclosed in a release.

Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, Aquinas president, and Dr. Matt Pinson, Welch president, said the two colleges have entered into negotiations and have signed a letter of intent for the sale of the Welch property, which includes 13 buildings located on eight acres.

The acquisition and transition for Welch and Aquinas will take 18 months, including 12 months during which both colleges will occupy the Welch campus property while Welch builds the first phase of its new campus in Gallatin. In June 2014, Aquinas will renovate and occupy four buildings on the campus, and will occupy the total campus in August 2015.

Aquinas, a Roman Catholic liberal arts institution, enrolls about 575 students. The 83-acre campus is also home to Saint Cecilia Academy, a private all-girls college preparatory school with grades 9-12.

Welch College (the center of which is seen below in an image courtesy of Google Maps) is located less than a mile east of the current Aquinas campus, which will be maintained as an academic site, according to Dr. William Smart, Aquinas associate provost.

Smart said the acquisition of the Welch campus will allow Aquinas to quadruple the available space for its students and faculty and will include all the amenities necessary for a “full flourishing of campus life.”

“We will continue to use the current site on the Dominican Campus and are excited for the opportunity to accommodate additional growth at Aquinas College,” he added.

This year, Aquinas College has tripled the number of students in its residential life program in only the program’s second year of operation, drawing students nationwide, Smart said. Furthermore, with the addition in 2012 of graduate studies, a house system based on the Oxbridge model and a new Center for Faith and Culture and the Center for the Study of Human Dignity and Ethics in Health Care, the expansion of facilities for students is key, he said.

Welch officials have long attempted to sell the campus property. In 2001, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film looked at the site before eventually opting for MetroCenter.

Galbraith (on right in photo) said the Dominican Sisters have lived and worked in West Nashville since 1923, thus allowing for a smooth transition.

“So we are confident that the transition to the new campus will proceed with consideration for the needs of the Welch College community and the Richland-West End neighborhood," she said. "We intend to work closely with both communities to ensure the best possible experience for all involved parties. On the Dominican Campus, we are committed to the preservation of open green spaces for our students and the restoration of historic structures to their pristine beauty and will do the same at the new campus, as funds become available.”

Pinson (on left in photo) said Welch College — previously known as Free Will Baptist Bible College and with an enrollment of  about 315 students — has enjoyed a strong relationship with the neighborhood for more than 70 years.

“Knowing Sister Mary Sarah and the character of Aquinas College and the Dominican Order, there should be very little notable difference or impact on the neighborhood,” he said.