Norwich University Staircase No Ordinary Project for Shawn Brennan, Class of ‘96

May 23, 2018

One of the most significant landmarks on the Norwich University campus is also among its most humble: a simple set of granite steps at the northeast corner of the Upper Parade ground. But this is no ordinary staircase. These are the Centennial Stairs, built in 1919 to honor forty individuals that helped define Norwich University during its first 100 years. For nearly a century the stairs have served as a daily reminder of Norwich’s mission “to make moral, patriotic, effective, useful citizens.”

With Norwich University celebrating its bicentennial in 2019, the university has commissioned a second stairway on the southeast corner of the UP, based on an original concept by architect Don McKnight. Engraved on each of its 78 steps will be the names of alumni and leaders who made significant contributions to Norwich in its second century.

It is truly an honor to be among the 78 alumni and leaders memorialized on the bicentennial stairs. For architect Shawn Brennan, Class of ’96, it is also an honor to return to his alma mater to design them.

In addition to the Bicentennial Stair, Brennan helped design Norwich’s two LEED Gold student residences, South Hall and Dalrymple Hall, as well as a new biomass-fueled central plant. Currently, Shawn is co-leading a major effort to upgrade several academic buildings on campus, in partnership with Jones Architecture of Salem, Massachusetts.

“My time at Norwich made me who I am today,” says Brennan, now a Vice President at Freeman French Freeman Architects in Burlington, Vermont. “Not only did I receive an excellent education at Norwich, but I have been fortunate enough to return to the University as an architect and help shape the look of today’s campus.”

The $50 million project is the centerpiece of the University’s Forging the Future capital campaign. It includes Mack Hall, a new, state-of-the-art academic building, and major renovations to Dewey, Webb, and Ainsworth Halls, which date back a half-century or more. Each building will contain a mix of technology-rich learning spaces and traditional lecture halls, opening up new possibilities for cross-disciplinary teaching and research at Norwich.

“These are all great projects, and I can’t wait to see them completed,” says Brennan. “But designing the Bicentennial Stairs has a much deeper meaning for me. Buildings change over time—as they should—but these stairs will stand as a timeless monument to some of Norwich’s great leaders. As an alumnus of the university, being connected to history in this way is something truly special.”

The groundbreaking ceremony for the bicentennial stairs will take place on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at 2 p.m. at the Sullivan Museum and History Center. The project will be completed and dedicated during Homecoming Weekend in September 2019 as one of many bicentennial celebrations on campus. To learn more about Norwich’s 200th anniversary, visit


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