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Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Marks the Official Grand Opening of the Russell J. Salvatore Commons

By November 22, 2022Press Release

Listen to the story as read by digital media and communication student Lei Anna Craig, ’24, or read it below.

Written by Aneesa Haque-Piccione, ’23, Lucas Mendes, ’24 and Lei Anna Craig, ’24, students in Villa Maria’s digital media and communication program.

On September 13th, Villa Maria College cut the ribbon on the newly-renovated Russell J. Salvatore Commons. Made possible by the biggest donation in Villa Maria’s history, the revamp was completed in an impressive three-month turnaround and is one of many facility improvements being undertaken by the College.

Formally known as the dining hall or Villa Bistro, construction for the Commons began on May 16, 2022 and was the first time a remodel of the space had been undertaken in the sixty-year history of the College. The project was funded by a generous donation made by civic leader and philanthropist Russell J. Salvatore—the most significant contribution made by an individual to Villa Maria since the College was founded. Salvatore expressed the decisive impression that the students left on him after one of his many visits to the campus:

“I happened to be here as a guest. I’ve spoken [at] other places and when I met the students here, they won me over so beautifully because they looked so neat. My mind just started thinking…the room was just a big square room. When I saw it, I said, I’ve done a lot of buildings, but I visualized the room and decided…we’re gonna start remodeling.”

Salvatore affirmed what many in this community already know: Students are what give Villa life. We spoke with a few of those students about their feelings towards the renovation:

“The atmosphere is much more modern. There are more options for activities, it’s cozier than the other one. The other one was starting to get more outdated and it was time for a change.”

“If I had to say, the fact that it feels more like a lounge than anything. This one definitely feels like it’s a more modern-day thing.”

Brian Emerson, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Operations, spearheaded the project’s completion and touched upon what it felt like now that the students were back, and the semester was in full swing:

“The most rewarding part was when we opened on the first day of classes. All the students came in and they just made themselves at home. They weren’t afraid to touch anything—they were just plopping down, playing pool, playing the games, and that was awesome. That’s what we did this for—for the students to use it, to like it and enjoy it.”

The consensus from students and the administration seems clear: enhanced space and modernized layout offers a more comfortable and welcoming space for the community to be together—opening up the opportunity for students to connect, relax and feel at home.

When the community came together for the ribbon cutting event, the rumble of excitement in the Commons wasn’t just coming from the students. Enthusiasm was also apparent from the high-profile leaders in attendance, including NY State Senator Tim Kennedy and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. Brown expressed how the new Commons would continue to serve as an important factor in building student relationships:

I want to recognize Villa Maria College President Dr. Matt Giordano, or Dr. G. as he is affectionately called, and all of the staff, and all of the students here at this great institution. For decades this dining hall has served as a special meeting place for students to decompress, grab a bite to eat, and build important life-long relationships with one another…Now, thanks to the incredibly generous donation of $1 million from Russell Salvatore…student relationships will now be formed in this brand new state-of-the-art, Russell J. Salvatore Commons.”

Mayor Brown, President Giordano, and Mr. Salvatore

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Villa Maria’s president, Dr. Matthew Giordano, and local philanthropist Russell J. Salvatore

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Villa Maria’s president, Dr. Matthew Giordano, and local philanthropist Russell J. Salvatore

NY State Senator Patrick Gallivan and Assembly member Monica Wallace were also among the respected attendees of the event.

President of Villa Maria College Dr. Matthew Giordano expressed what this moment represented:

“For much of its history, Villa has been under the radar, and overshadowed by other colleges. I am here to say that those days are officially over. This renovation gives us legitimacy and credibility that I think is really going to bring more people to the campus.

Visitors to the College will not only see the recently completed Commons, but also a variety of  other projects that the College currently has in the works. This includes a newly constructed Digital Media Arts Center, classroom and office renovations, and updates inside the Athletic Center.

All of these facility-based upgrades and improvements seem to drive home two important points—Villa Maria has momentum, and it’s eager to keep growing. With the completion of the Villa Commons seemingly taking place in the blink of an eye (or one summer, to be exact)—it’s clear that this newfound momentum shows no sign of subsiding. And to keep up, we had all better keep our eyes peeled.