Northeastern plans expansion
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Major changes are planned in the next decade at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. Saint Louis Ave., including the expansion of its campus and construction of student dormitories that have been opposed by some business owners and residents in the area.
The university’s "Decade of Dreams" major facilities projects will require demolition or remodeling of both on-campus and off-campus buildings and construction of new ones.
The plans call for construction of mixed-use developments on both sides of Bryn Mawr Avenue between Bernard Street and Kimball Avenue and on Foster Avenue between Central Park Avenue and Saint Louis Avenue, according to chief communications officer Erika Krehbiel.
Krehbiel said that the buildings containing retail space on the ground floor and student housing above would occupy 280,000 square feet on Bryn Mawr and 160,000 square feet on Foster. Krehbiel said that the student housing development is a partnership between the university and a private partner that wishes to be anonymous to finance and build the dorms and the retail components and manage the properties.
Krehbiel said that some small-business owners along Bryn Mawr have opposed the plans because they feel that they would be forced to move out of the area. She said that the university is working with the owners to purchase their properties rather than obtaining them through eminent domain if the owners refuse to sell the land.
The university owns Pete’s Auto Clinic, 3426 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., and a building across the street that is being used as a resources office, Krehbiel said. Businesses that would be affected by the plans include a Chinese restaurant, a hookah bar, a real estate office and a Latino union that helps immigrant workers.
"There have been mixed reactions to various projects listed on our ‘Decade of Dreams’ plans," Krehbiel said. "The business owners are worried about what will happen to them, but people are worried about different things."
Krehbiel said that it is too early to tell how many students would live in the new dormitories and that the plans are in their initial stages. Other projects would be funded in different ways, most likely though state funding and fund-raising.
The university has traditionally been a commuter school, and it has an enrollment of about 11,000 students. "We will still be a commuter school, but we do have a population of students that are from out of state or from different countries who could benefit from living on campus," Krehbiel said.
The dormitories would feature retail space and residential housing, parking and a pedestrian-oriented street space. The new buildings are intended to be architecturally compatible with the campus and the neighborhood. Some residents have expressed displeasure with the dorm plans, citing fears of an increase in traffic.
As part of the "Decade of Dreams" plans, a 160,000-square-foot building Education Building would be built northwest of the Physical Education Complex. The building would provide more opportunities first-generation and bilingual students and would feature specialized classrooms, clinics and laboratories.
Northeastern is recognized as a top producer of education degrees to Hispanic and Asian students. The building would be funded by the state and could be built by 2016.
A 205,000-square-foot building would be remodeled and expanded for use as the university’s Science Building. The current building was built in 1972 and has gone minor renovations. The new building would feature new classrooms, teaching labs and offices.
The current Building F would add 37,000 square feet of space to create a performing arts facility that would house the Ensemble Espanol Center for Spanish Dance. The expansion of the current building would offer an opportunity to raise the university’s visibility on Bryn Mawr.
The child care center at the university would be expanded by 18,000 square feet because the current center maintains long waiting lists.
Construction of the Science Building will eliminate one of the current parking lots, and a 280,000-square-foot mixed-use building would be built with 660 parking spaces.