Campaign for new student center picks up steam despite university doubts

    Associated Student Government’s movement to build a new student center on campus is stepping up its fight to win backing from students and the administration. But it may face an uphill battle with top officials like University President Morton Schapiro, who has said he favors cheaper solutions.

    Next week, the New Student Center Initiative will launch a campaign for student support. It will hold focus groups with students and publicize itself on a website and Twitter account.

    Initiative supporters are calling for the university to build a new student center in the parking lot of Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. Their backup proposal is to redesign the Jacobs Center, which houses the Kellogg School of Management.

    Estimates from 2005, referenced in initiative documents posted online at Scribd, place a $90 million to $100 million price tag on the new center. Renovating the Jacobs Center was estimated to cost about $65 million.

    ASG President Claire Lew said she supports a new building, despite the cost. “It is very difficult to retroactively fit into a building,” the SESP senior said at ASG’s executive meeting. “The most ideal option is to have a clean slate for students to have the best NU experience.”

    Weinberg junior Ashwath Jaidev, the initiative director, wants to make the proposed new student center a priority in the University Strategic Plan, which outlines the University’s agenda for the coming years and will be released Jan. 1. Initiative supporters submitted their proposal to the University Strategic Planning Group in late June, and met with the Board of Trustees Sept. 24.

    Supporters stressed a need for more venue and meeting space in a central location on campus, more food and entertainment options, as well as centralized student services.

    “The way we centered the presentation to the board was in terms of enhancing community on campus,” Jaidev said, “which the board agrees was a major concern for them because they see many rifts within Northwestern student body, and they want to find ways of enhancing community.”

    Jaidev said that, overall, members of the administration have been supportive. But the initiative faces skepticism from Schapiro, who will meet with Jaidev Oct. 14.

    “I’m not so sure that the single enormous new student center [...] is really the answer here,” Schapiro said in a recent interview with North by Northwestern. “It isn’t clear to me that the answer to the lack of community problem that people always talk about is to build some mega student center on the lot at Garrett. I think having lots of cafés and lots of smaller student centers might be a good idea, maybe a better idea, at least for the immediate future.”

    Lew called a meeting with Schapiro on the center “disappointing,” because he did not specifically endorse the initiative’s proposals.

    Much also depends on whether Kellogg decides to move to another building, which would free up space in the Jacobs Center. Lew said construction on a new home for the business school could cost up to $300 million.

    The initiative plans to hold focus groups of 15 to 20 students to get feedback from the student body about what they want in a new student center. Jaidev and his team are also contacting other universities that have recently built new student centers, like Ohio State and Dartmouth, to find out how satisfied the students are with the new buildings.

    “No one wants to say, ‘Yes, absolutely!’ Because obviously there’s no absolute yes,” Jaidev said. “There’s so many different priorities to manage here, and so many different logistical issues. Our goal is to display to the administration that the benefits outweigh the costs.”

    Additional reporting by Zoe Fox and Nick Castele.


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