Lawrence is moving ahead with plans to build a new campus center in the not too distant future. The building will combine the functions of the current union and Downer Commons, while improving and enhancing features of both. Though nothing has been confirmed at this point, many potential plans exist for the new building.President Warch talked about the background, logistics, and future possibilities regarding the center, as well as some of the barriers the University faces before building can begin. Beginning in the late 1980s, it was decided that the current union and eating facilities were inadequate for the burgeoning needs of the student body as well as changes in technology, etc. Due to the construction of Briggs Hall and Science Hall as well as renovation of the Conservatory in the past decade, the new campus center temporarily took a backseat while more pressing needs were dealt with.
With these projects completed, the University is now ready to begin implementing the next major construction project on campus. Given current plans, the campus center, when completed, will be the largest building on campus and will be equipped for the 21st century. In 1995, Lawrence called in Sasaki Associates, an outside consulting firm, to help locate potential sites. The four possible sites currently being considered include expanding the existing union site, expanding Downer Commons, building over the entire quadrangle, or building over part of the quadrangle and extending the building near the river.
According to Warch, the fourth possibility, deemed the “quad-river plan,” seems the most beneficial to the Lawrence community at this point, and is currently the most likely prospect for the new center. Placing the building here would necessitate the removal of at least two fraternity buildings, as well as Hulbert House. The final decision as to where to build will be made by the Board of Trustees, which could happen as soon as the next Board meeting, in less than two weeks time.
Once a decision is made, building will not begin immediately. Warch stated that building would not be able to begin until some sizeable donations were made. He gave a ballpark estimate of at least $30 million for the new center. The funding would be primarily, if not exclusively, from private donors. He also stated that they would not be able to begin until some sizeable donations were made. Further planning and architectural design would then have to take place. These hurdles could delay the groundbreaking for at least several years.
Another hurdle Lawrence faces before building can begin involves legal problems the University could face if they should decide it necessary to remove any of the fraternity housing. Though Warch could not speak directly about the legal issues, he did state that there had been discussions between the two sides, but that the fraternities’ representatives have since called off the talks.
Warch emphasized the fact that campus only has so much space, and that the University will do what it deems necessary for the good of the students. He stated that the University is sensitive to the fraternities’ position, and he hopes that an amicable agreement can be reached between the sides. Warch continued by saying that although this could potentially alienate some individuals involved with the fraternities, this will not cause the University to underscore the well being of the students.
Speaking on further benefits of a new campus center, Warch gave examples of amenities that could be offered there. A large ballroom area, drastically improved food services, student meeting areas, centralized mailboxes, better space for student organizations, and improved facilities from the current union such as the Coffeehouse, Viking Room, and Grill could all have a new home in the proposed campus center. As for Downer and the current union, some time in the future the former may be converted to administrative offices while the latter will probably become an academic building for studying or computer terminals.
Warch made it clear that all of these plans are merely tentative and that none should be considered absolute or unchangeable.