By Thomas Vogel
Dominican University officials said July 13 they've raised about a third of the total cost from friends and alumni of the school to build a new $16.5 million 30,000-square-foot student commons on the 30-acre River Forest campus.
The university first met with the village board in June 2015 to discuss plans for the space, which includes a repurposed 20,000-square-foot space in Mazzuchelli Hall and a new 2-story, 10,000-square-foot addition on what is currently a parking lot, but has held off initiating an official planned development process, which includes submitting project documents and securing approval from several village commissions.
"We needed to make sure we had all the financing and timelines set before we move forward," said Grace J. Cichomska, vice president for university advancement. "When the funding is available and the board says go, that's when we'll move forward."
The new student commons will modernize Dominican's campus for the "needs of today's students" according to a 2015 university magazine article and will shift several universities offices like Student Involvement and Academic Enrichment adjacent to the gathering space. This will, according to Cichomska and project manager Dawn Morse, "maximize the opportunities" for students.
"Our trustees are excited; our faculty and staff are excited," Cichomska said, adding that there is a "buzz" on campus. "Our students are excited, but it's bittersweet because some of them understand they won't be here to enjoy it."
University bylaws require that officials raise 70 percent of the total cost for a given project before constructions starts. The new space will also include updated kitchen and dining facilities, which presented some challenges.
"It's a very tricky project," Morse said. "We have to tie into our existing kitchens. We have a lot of complicated logistics to work through. We want to make sure we're doing that with the least disruption possible to faculty staff and students."
Given the project's location near the center of campus, the physical impact to River Forest residents and neighboring homes should be minimal, according to documents in a June 2015 village board meeting packet. The exterior brick and arched windows of Mazzuchelli Hall, which was built about a hundred years ago, will be incorporated into the new space.
The project was first included in the university's 2003 Campus Master Plan but has been tweaked over the years.
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