Campus Center plans set in motion

Sarah Morton

Since 1998, plans have been gradually developing for the improvement of the Lawrence Campus. Recently, an idea created by the same two-year brainstorming session that gave birth to Hiett Hall has been stirring in the quiet phases of its development after some years of stagnation due to lack of funding. Originally, the Board of Trustees recognized the excellence of Lawrence’s academic buildings, and decided the student life-oriented buildings needed the most improvement. From 1998 to 2000, the Task Force on Residence Life, which consisted of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees, began submitting proposals for campus improvement to the Board of Trustees. Hiett Hall represents the first result of their efforts, answering a demand for a greater variety of on-campus housing for the primarily residential Lawrence community. The task force hoped, above all, to reaffirm the residential nature of the Lawrence community as well as improve the residence life experience. Currently, the Campus Center Plan, another one of the task force’s ideas, stands in the initial phases of development.
Since the fund-raising has not yet been made public, plans for the center are said to be in their “quiet” stage. In the initial phases of the capital campaign, representatives are approaching reliable donors such as foundations, friends and supporters of the college, alumni, and trustees, to expand Lawrence’s $188 million endowment. According to executive vice president Gregory Volk, many funds raised go to endowed scholarships and professorships. These funds will not go specifically to the campus center but to the financial needs of the college as a whole. However, the fundraising allows the Board of Trustees to resume the design plans for the center that began with the original task force.
The Board approved the campus center proposal in 2000. The trustees decided, after weighing different construction sites, that the center will be built on the site of Hulbert House, overlooking the Fox River. According to Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell, the campus center is meant to be a “crossroads of campus life,” where members of the Lawrence community can spend time together in a casual environment outside of the classroom.
The center will bring together several aspects of life at Lawrence, including dining, student mailboxes, publications, LUCC offices, and a coffee house, making it a centerpiece of campus activity. The planned building includes space for clubs to meet and store materials as well as a cinema where campus organizations can show films. The center will feature a convenience store, supplying food, necessities, and Lawrence memorabilia, thus expanding the Union Station shop. Different dining options, including extended open hours and new types of cuisine, were also included in the planning discussions. The new center will feature “Marketplace” style dining, where, instead of waiting in buffet lines, students may visit food stations that present a wide variety of foods, from salad to stir-fry.
Student input represented a significant component of the planning and construction of Hiett Hall, and will have a similar role in the creation of the campus center. Since the campus center represents a more student life oriented building, student input is a significant element of the design process, whereas, in an academic building, faculty input holds more weight. Although the task force meetings have long concluded, current students may still offer suggestions in the current phase of the center’s development. In Hiett Hall’s construction, students gave opinions and suggestions for suite layouts, tried out furniture, and looked at building materials. Similar student involvement will be sought in designing the particulars of the campus center. Architects will visit the school in November and hold “Brown Paper” sessions, where students will have the opportunity to react to different layouts and designs. Truesdell remarked, “This type of student involvement does not happen at every college” and it exemplifies “an exciting part of the process.” Since the current status of the campus center synthesizes years of planning and ideas, many students do not know what the Campus Center Plan entails.
In order to answer questions and provide more general information to the campus center project, President Beck and the project architects will hold an open meeting in Riverview Lounge on Nov. 16. The meeting for faculty and staff will take place at 4:30, while the meeting for students will occur at 7:00. In addition to explaining the project, Beck will also present her ideas for the renovation of Downer and Memorial Union for other uses, as their present respective functions will eventually transfer to the new campus center. Anyone interested in discussing the environmental impact of the campus center building may stay for an additional session about plans to make the building ecologically friendly. Once the Board of Trustees gives the go-ahead, plans long in the making may finally be set in motion again, and Lawrence’s students, faculty, and staff will once again become part of an exciting process to improve the community as a whole for themselves and future Lawrentians.