Jacobs Center to house social sciences; construction could begin summer 2019


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

The Donald P. Jacobs Center, 2001 Sheridan Rd. Construction on the Jacobs Center could begin next summer at the earliest.

Syd Stone, City Editor

The recently vacated Donald P. Jacobs Center will become a social sciences “hub” in the coming years, but construction won’t begin until summer 2019 at the earliest, Provost Jonathan Holloway told The Daily.

Once renovations have been completed, the Jacobs Center is set to house the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, the Institute for Policy Research, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the Global Engagement Studies Institute, according to the Facilities Management website.

University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily in October that administrators and the Board of Trustees began to discuss new options after moving the Kellogg School of Management, which was formerly housed in the Jacobs Center, to the newly constructed Global Hub.

Holloway said consolidating all of these departments into one building will increase interaction between faculty. However, he said, the project remains stalled because it is “hard to raise money” for a building that has already been named.

“These beautiful new athletic facilities are going up because someone is paying for them,” Holloway said. “That’s why they’re able to go up. Jacobs is a different story. So while I would love to have shovels in the ground this summer, we just know that’s not happening.”

He said a construction start date for the Jacobs Center is dependent on other projects on campus, including the construction of the University Commons as a replacement for the Norris University Center.

“Frankly, if an angel investor or donor came in and said, ‘I want to give this money for Norris, and only Norris,’ then Norris would go to the top of the list,” Holloway said. “That’s just the way it works.”

For now, the Jacobs Center sits mostly empty. Holloway said he is “troubled” by the fact that there are only about 100 people working in the Jacobs Center currently.

“It’s not good to have empty buildings,” he said. “We’ve got to get cracking on these things.”

One proposed use for the Jacobs Center was to house some or all of Norris’ functions once construction begins on the new University Commons, a project that has been delayed due to financial reasons.

However, Schapiro said he was taken aback to see that the building was not a practical alternative because of its physical state.

“It turns out that Jacobs is not the building that many of us expected,” he told The Daily in an October interview. “When we got in there, we saw that the systems are failing. The big surprise was that Jacobs couldn’t just be painted and moved into.”

Upon realizing the Jacobs Center needed more than just cosmetic updates, Schapiro said the Board of Trustees developed a full renovation plan for the building.

Holloway said those involved with the planning of the renovations and expansion have “gone the middle route” — instead of just laying down new carpet or completely knocking down the building to start from scratch, he said they plan to develop a sixth floor overbuild to connect the three separate buildings that make up the Center in an “organic” way.

According to the Facilities Management website, the construction will “provide an opportunity to normalize spaces to meet Northwestern guidelines, standardize navigation and floor layout … and upgrade systems as needed to achieve at least a LEED Gold rating.”

Jacobs Center project manager Deborah A. Burkhart declined to comment for this story.

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, the director and a faculty fellow at IPR said she has not been told when construction will begin or when IPR will move into the Jacobs Center. However, she said she is “extremely excited” about the new space.

She added that she looks forward to how the new, unified space will “promote interactions between researchers just by running into each other in the hall.”

“Right now our researchers are spread out over a lot of different buildings across campus, and that means it’s just more rare that we run into each other and get to talk about research and talk about ideas,” she said. “So much of the way that academic research happens is from informal conversations.”

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