NU to begin filling Lagoon

Marisa Maldonado

Construction to partly fill the Lagoon north of Norris University Center will begin by March 1, ultimately creating more room for academic buildings and a parking lot, Northwestern administrators announced Tuesday.

Of the Lagoon’s 19 acres, the four to be paved over include the overpass where fish and birds congregate, running from just north of Norris to the Allen Center. The new land could hold at least four buildings, a pedestrian mall along the edge of the lake and about 200 parking spots, said Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance.

NU needs the landscape change because of limited space for construction – the campus occupies 240 acres including Ryan Field, whereas Stanford University has 8,000 acres and Duke University has 7,700 acres, Sunshine said. He declined to speculate which buildings the new land would hold.

“We’re pretty landlocked,” Sunshine said. “Once we complete the buildings that are underway, we really don’t have for the future any substantial opportunities for additional growth, (considering) the absolute need to maintain recreational space and open space for the general beauty of the campus.”

But building on any part of the Lakefill would detract from the beauty that makes it such a “selling point” for NU, said Stephen Salinger, Weinberg ’79, adding that he might withhold his yearly donation to NU because of this.

“Maybe NU is going to become an urban campus, which is sad,” said Salinger, who is now a dentist practicing in Highland Park.

After buildings went up on the Lakefill in 1964, administrators told students that no further changes would take place, he said.

The 200 proposed parking spaces would remain for at least 10 years, but that could change if another building is needed, Sunshine said.

Plans also call for the creation of a pedestrian mall of an unknown length, which would include sidewalks, benches and possibly a small pond, Sunshine said. But that extension would require several million additional dollars.

“It could be two years, four years, six years – obviously, we’d like to start it as soon as possible,” Sunshine said.

Money for improvements such as the pedestrian mall is the most difficult to raise for many universities, including NU, said Vice President for University Development Ronald Vanden Dorpel. Fund raising for the pedestrian mall could be squeezed into Campaign Northwestern, although he said no one has asked him to begin raising money for it.

Workers would have to lower the lagoon’s water level by 5 feet before they fill it with either sand or clay, said Ron Nayler, vice president for facilities management.

If filling the lagoon ends early winter 2003 as expected, Sunshine said, the landscaping and paving could begin that spring.

Associated Student Government President Jordan Heinz said he had heard rumors of construction plans for the Lakefill for about a year but did not know the project would start so soon. Money for the construction would be better spent on buildings that students want, such as Norris University Center renovations that now appear unlikely because they lack donation funds.

“In terms of long-range planning, they don’t have student input at all,” Heinz said. “It would be great if they would ask for input and our advice, but just (have) the courtesy to tell us.”

Genevieve Maricle, president of Students for Ecological and Environmental Development, said she chose NU over Stanford in part because of the atmosphere that includes the Lakefill. Students use the paths for exercise and leisure year-round, she said, and 5K races along the Lakefill draw residents from Evanston and Chicago.

“If the whole thing is covered in buildings, nobody’s going to want to run there,” she said.