A look at the master plan that seeks to change the face of North Central’s Campus
Since last year, North Central University has partnered with a Minneapolis-based architecture and design firm to survey the university’s property and develop a master plan to radically update the campus on which the Board of Regents plans to vote May 1 and 2. The first structure built would be an academic commons building on the corner of Chicago Avenue and 14th Street. The master plan also makes way for new housing, athletics, and greenspace in upcoming years, according to University President Scott Hagan.
The DLR Group was hired to assess the university’s current facilities and determine what possibilities exist to develop the campus. The DLR Group has played a role in the design of various facilities across the country, including local developments such as the Mall of America Expansion, JW Marriott at Mall of America, and the University of Minnesota Student Cultural Center.
Back in fall 2017, Hagan was presented with plans to build a three-story science, technology, and biology structure where the Communications Center stands. However, Hagan decided to put the project on hold for a year to consider a long-term plan.
“I feel like my role at this historical stage of the university is to get the buildings, as best we can, to match the greatness of the college and to get the school ready for the next 100 years,” Hagan said.
Hagan said he wants North Central’s facilities to reflect the quality of its graduates and that he would like to build the premiere downtown university ofthe United States. He cited accessibility to jobs and internships, the low debt of North Central students, and the existence of top local churches as attributes to student success.
“I’ve always felt North Central’s ability as a college to produce the kind of leaders it has produced using buildings that already existed was miraculous,” Hagan said.
North Central’s Board of Regents has agreed on the building concept and vision of the master plan. It will wait until their next meeting in early May, when the case for support has been completed, to determine how they will proceed. Although the university president can act as a catalyst during movements for change, the Board ultimately acts as the university decision-maker.
If the plans are approved, ground may be broken within the year and construction of the first building completed before the fall of 2021. It is expected that the academic commons would be the first building constructed and would stand where the parking lot, PraiseFM facility, andyellow “fortress” building are currently located. It would include classrooms for new science and technology majors.
Hagan said that the academic commons structure would house a new “student experience” on the first floor and become the “front door” of the university. Other parts of the building would house labs for biology and classrooms for current programs. Ultimately, it would stand six stories tall and be the tallest building North Central has ever constructed.
When describing what the project may look like, Hagan explained that it could blend the sophistication of North Central’s historic structures with the addition of new buildings. Some of the DLR Group’s other projects, including the collaboration on the JW Marriot Hotel at the Mall of America, show a modern, sleek look – the structure includes glass features andsharp angles.. The DLR Group has also received awards such as the Green/Sustainable Project of the Year award from the Minnesota Construction Association (MCA), Wood Design Award from the Woodworks Wood Products Council, and the Innovators Award from the CoreNet Global Midwest.
“I believe it will integrate beautifully into an urban context, and that when you see a picture of the skyline of Minneapolis and you see U.S. Bank, you[r eyes] will immediately be drawn toward this new academic center,” Hagan said. “It’ll be visible as part of the skyline of Minneapolis. We will be a part of the forever of Minneapolis, and we think this will be a signature building that will make people incredibly proud of their school.”
A final price tag has yet to be determined. However, it can be anticipated that a new six-story building outfitted with the necessary teaching tools for biology and science programs could cost millions. For comparison, the House of Charity is planning a large construction project at 714 Park Avenue; they plan to construct the Park 7 Apartments, a five-story, 36,275-square-foot apartment building, costing more than $8 million.
Biology and science programming is North Central’s most-requested, currently-unoffered curriculum, Hagan noted. He suggested that hundreds of potential students go to other institutions since the degree is unavailable.
If approved, this project could accommodate North Central’s increasing student population. North Central’s enrollment has been growing since fall-time census of 2016, according to Chief Enrollment Officer Mike Price. If trends continue, North Central may need more facilities. The pending plans could lead to North Central’s largest building project since the construction of Phillipps Hall in 2000.
Founder F.J. Lindquist had a school of 60 students when he acquired Asbury Hospital (current day Miller Hall) in 1934 for $500,000, when the institution only had $200. If Lindquist’s plans miraculously came true, Hagan suggested, it is within reason that the University’s current plans are possible.
“The gap between what Lindquist had and what he was trying to purchase to start the school was a bigger financial gap than the gap we have.” Hagan said.
NCU’s facilities have stood, in some cases, for decades. It may not come as a surprise that energy is being invested into developing plans for new structures as weathered ones reach their expiration date. The first-floor furnace in the Kingsriter building was recently declared beyond repair after failing in early March, forcing classroom changes. The building has had several issues in recent years, according to Communication Arts Assistant Professor Jonathon Heide. Moreover, the university has seen finances raised to renovate Clay Commons and the Carlson Corridor in the past two years.
Understanding the current state of the university, Hagan believes the time for change has finally arrived.