Guest Editorial: Campus Center

Robert Klavins

There is no debating the need for a new campus center. What is troubling is that in creating one “place where students are going to want to go and spend time” we are destroying another. Admittedly, it is a minority of students who walk through or spend time in the woods below what is currently Hulbert House. In a way, though, that is exactly the point. Those woods and the trail that goes through them are the only place on this campus, and arguably within walking distance, where one can get any feeling of being away from it all. There is, of course, Main Hall Green, the newly created green space near City Park, and the chapel green, but none of these give one any sense of being in nature or of escaping campus, the city, or our closet-sized dorm rooms. We do need places on campus to mingle and mix, but some of us also need a place to do just the opposite from time to time.
Until two years ago, we did have another
small patch of woodlands on campus. In the place where a snowy owl once stayed over winter and a gray fox denned, we now have Hiett Hall. If, as the article in the Nov. 18 edition of The Lawrentian suggests, Hiett Hall is the template from which the new campus center will be cut, those of us who enjoy walking, birding, and relaxing by the river are out of luck. While no one expects to find wolves or moose below Hulbert House, it is not uncommon to spy a bald eagle, countless winter and fall migrants, or a scolding red squirrel. For many years, a great horned owl has nested in the woods very near Sage Hall, and should be hooting away by the time we all return from winter break. None of this occurs on the stretch of river between Drew and Lawe streets anymore. Now it’s likely that it won’t occur east of Lawe Street either – even with a nice trail bordered on both sides by well-manicured, evenly-spaced maple trees.
If we claim to be a campus that cares about green issues, values quality of life, and actually paid attention when we read and discussed “A Sand County Almanac,” let’s put our money where our mouth is and do our humble part here and now. There must be building alternatives that would fulfill all of the requirements of a functional union (and could even include a river view) that wouldn’t have to destroy our woods. In fact it is my understanding that none of the original proposals for the campus center footprint involved the bluff at all.
I don’t blame the architects for only considering a building that spills down over the bluff. If I were looking at it from an architect’s point of view, or from the point of view of the PR person who makes our brochures, I wouldn’t consider anything
else; but we already have enough of that. What we don’t have is a whole lot of wooded bluffs. Neither, for that matter,
does much of the Fox River anymore. There is no reason for us to be a part of the problem. If there were acres and acres of woodlands along the river here on campus it might not be such a big deal to cut a few down, but we are down to the last bit. There is no reason that we can’t have a view of the river, a place to meet and mingle, and a place to get just a taste of solitude.
It is claimed that student’s opinions are being taken into account. It seems to me, however, that while our opinions are being considered in how the furniture may be upholstered, the major decisions have been made for us. In all honesty, who but the most engaged students at Lawrence had any influential input into how the new campus center would take shape, or even had any idea that they could say something?
I am reminded of my many visits to city council meetings in which the public speaks, but by the time it happens the time for debate has long been over.
Maybe I am in the minority on this issue, but I doubt it. More than any other building on campus, this one is for the students. If you are against tearing down the woods to “embrace the river” I implore you to make your voice heard. Maybe it’s not too late.
You don’t embrace something by destroying it.