Campus Center forum provided for students

Emily Gonzalez

The administration and representatives from Uihlein-Wilson architects held an information session on the new Campus Center Plan developments in Riverview Lounge Wednesday. The session gave students a chance to see and hear what the campus center may involve, as well as offer feedback of their own. The session also closely follows the recent decision to continue development on the fundraising and plans for the campus center, which comes after years of discussion, debate and surveying by the Board of Trustees and the Task Force on Residence Life.
The meeting was introduced by President Jill Beck and was followed by a presentation by Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell on the timeline of campus planning over the years. Truesdell highlighted that plans have been discussed for various new buildings since 1988, at a time when most investments were being put into new academic facilities. In 1998, the Task Force on Residence Life was created to survey the Lawrence community on opinions about new residence life improvements and a campus center. After a two-year process, the Board of Trustees accepted the task force’s report and recommendations, culminating in the creation of new living options and the construction of Hiett Hall in 2003. Since then, focus has been put on creating a place where dining services and campus activities are centralized, making a “centerpiece of campus life.”
Truesdell commented that the campus center committee wanted a “lively, active building, unlike anything Lawrence has ever seen before,” a place where “students are going to want to go and spend time.” With these plans in full force again, fund-raising for the center is now a priority in the capital campaign, and the Planning Committee has been revitalized. The committee includes two student representatives, Nathan Litt and Peter Bennett, as well as faculty appointed by the governance committee.
Immediately after Truesdell’s presentation, architects David Uihlein, Del Wilson, and other members of the Milwaukee firm discussed the campus center plans in depth, using slides and other visual representations. Wilson stated that they envisioned a place where everyone would be “mixing and mingling” – somewhere that would include various food options, such as a bistro and outside patio dining, as well as a new campus convenience store. There are also plans for a new information desk to welcome alumni and guests, a cinema for students and student clubs, a centralized mailbox area for all students – also one of the most controversial issues – and new meeting rooms and lounge spaces for student organizations.
Throughout the session, all of the architects and presenters placed much emphasis on creating a campus center that would take great advantage of the river view; instead of ignoring the Fox, they would make a place “embodying the river.” To supplement this discussion, posters of the three proposed designs for the center were placed in front, as well as pictures of various interiors and exteriors for possible buildings, which students were allowed to comment on directly onto the boards.
The three possible plans themselves each included four floors, arranged like Hiett Hall with two floors above street level and two built into the bluff. Each plan had different arrangements for the various rooms, which included a student programming floor, a “bistro” similar to the Union Grill, a convenience store, dining facilities, and student activity space. Among these, the student programming rooms and “Great Room” were debated as to what they would include. As one representative from the staff commented, “The best student centers blur the line between function.” Many students commented on different ways in which the center rooms could be used. Some students suggested using the Great Room as a combined study and lounge space, while another student pointed out that if the main goal of the center was to create a “dynamic” place for students, this might interfere with quiet study spaces. Furniture for the Great Room was also discussed, as well as the presence of a coffeehouse style in the room to potentially replace the current Underground Coffeehouse.
Students also brought up placement of campus hotspots such as the Viking Room – which President Beck said will stay in its current location to save space in the new facility. Plans for the future of the current union are unknown as yet, while the administration has decided that Downer Commons will become an academic building.
Many questions are still up in the air about the future of the new campus center, including the proposed construction date, which almost completely depends on the trustees’ prediction of funding. However, with the results of the information session and student input, it is certain that the center will be a new, different and exciting addition to the Lawrence campus.