Northwestern residential halls get summer makeovers

Annie Chang

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The most expensive residential renovation project Northwestern has ever constructed, the Elder Residential Community, is now home to new members of the class of 2014 and should be completed by the end of 2010.

The residential community is just one of the many construction projects budgeted for 2010, the total price tag for which is more than $100 million. One-fifth of that sum has gone toward renovating residential buildings, twice the usual average for residential improvements, said William Banis, vice president for student affairs.

University President Morton Schapiro said NU hasn’t recently invested much money into renovating dorms but improving residential life is one of his top priorities.

Elder Hall, 600 Lincoln St., Hinman House, Bobb Hall and McCulloch Hall, Willard Residential College and the Evans Scholars House all underwent major renovations this summer, with a new a late night cafe space added to South Campus.

Construction was scheduled to finish before students moved in, but a three-week labor union strike in July halted all campus construction, as well as dozens of other Chicago-area projects.


Because of the delay, some Elder residents are staying in temporary rooms until the link connecting the dormitory to its neighboring 600 Lincoln is completed. The link will connect the buildings on all floors, essentially making it one residence.

Other additions to Elder and 600 Lincoln include three practice rooms, more lounge space, a community kitchen, an elevator accessible to both sides and a new apartment for NU’s first live-in faculty member, which will be finished by the end of the year.

The connected dorms will create what NU has termed a “residential community,” said Bonnie Humphrey, director of design and construction.

“This is all part of a plan by Residential Life, based on student feedback, to really integrate all the buildings and to make the undergraduate experience better,” she said.

The idea for residential communities came up a few years ago, said Ron Nayler, associate vice president for facilities management. The proximity between Elder and its neighbors made it an ideal place to pilot the residential concept, he added.

NU wanted to create a residence in which students could learn from each other and live-in faculty members, Nayler said.

“The real intent is to make it a true ‘living-learning’ experience,” he said.

Weinberg freshman and Elder resident Ben Reisman is living in a temporary room until his is finished. He said the residential community description on the freshman housing form appealed to him as a new student looking for a bigger living community than a single dorm.

“We haven’t felt the full effect of what it’s going to be like,” Reisman said, “but I like the general idea.”

NU plans to build more residential communities in the future, based upon the success of Elder. The next addition would likely be built on South Campus and would be open to all undergraduates, Banis said.

Across Sheridan, Bobb and McCulloch Halls received approximately $4 million in renovations, which included uninstalling built-in furniture and refurbishing the dorm, Banis said.

Construction of nearly 100,000 additional square feet to the Technological Institute also began this summer and is scheduled to finish in Fall 2012. It is expected to achieve a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver rating. The changes to Tech will cost more than $10 million, Nayler said.


South Campus underwent significant changes this summer as well, the priciest of which was $3 million in improvements to Willard, which now houses a convenience store similar to the one in Foster-Walker Complex and a late night café called ‘Fran’s Cafe,’ which Humphrey likened to Lisa’s Café on North Campus. Plans for Fran’s Cafe began four years ago in response to many requests from students, Banis said. Last year’s Undergraduate Budget Priorities Committee survey named the creation of a “third space” for students on South Campus as a top demand among students.

Communication freshman Dan Johnson said Willard is one of his favorite places to eat.

“It’s definitely the best-looking place I’ve eaten at so far,” the Willard resident said. “It’s just comfortable and very relaxing.”

Weinberg sophomore and former Willard resident Lawrence Dai said he too was impressed with the new and improved dining hall.

“It looks a million times better than it used to,” he said. “It’s more inviting and a much better environment for getting together and having a meal.”

Rogers House and Evans Scholars House both had heating, plumbing and electrical systems installed during the summer. Nayler said Rogers House is expected to be certified with a LEED Silver rating, making it NU’s first green residential building, with greater energy-efficiency.

Harris Hall, which has been under construction since summer 2007, was scheduled to complete renovations, including the addition of faculty offices, study spaces, classrooms and a garden level for the new Center for Historical Studies, by fall 2010, but the date has been pushed back, according to the University’s website.

Schapiro, for the second year in row, greeted new students as they lugged belongings into their residences and said feedback on renovations was audibly positive.

“My wife and I spent move-in day wandering around, and I heard a lot of students at Bobb saying, ‘Wow, this is so much better than we thought!’ which made me feel good,” Schapiro said.