From the ground up: Emanuel, Kim launch student center construction

By Connor Carynski, Campus Editor

Erin Brown
Mayor Rahm Emanuel participated in the groundbreaking event of Columbia’s new student center, set to be completed in 2019. Also in attendance was Columbia’s President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, SGA President Malik Woolfork, and STAR scholar Hailey Chapetta. Nov. 13. Eighth St. and Wabash Ave.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, as well as other college associates, for the Nov. 13 student center groundbreaking ceremony.

The new center’s ceremony at the corner of 8th Street and South Wabash Avenue included speeches from Emanuel, Kim, Board of Trustees Chair Bill Wolf, Gensler Architecture principal and project leader of the center David Broz, Student Government Association President and senior business and entrepreneurship major Malik Woolfork, and freshman design major Hailee Chapetta.

During the ceremony, Emanuel said the new student center will create a haven for artistic projects and collaborations that will be just as “stunningly beautiful” as the building’s exterior.

 “Here in the South Loop, I believe this type of architecture will create an energy that will go beyond the campus, student body and community of Columbia,” Emanuel said. “This will be an inflection point in the South Loop’s energy and capacity.”

 Plans for the center—set to be completed in early 2019, according to a Nov. 10 Columbia News Office press release, and approved by the Board of Trustees Oct. 28, 2015—are intended to offer students a multipurpose space to congregate and a focal point for the college’s expansive campus, as reported Nov. 8, 2015, by The Chronicle.

 During the process of designing the interior, students were given the opportunity to ask for the features and elements they wanted during a Nov. 17, 2015, SGA forum, as reported Nov. 23, 2015, by The Chronicle.

In a Nov. 14 interview with The Chronicle, Kim said aspects of the student center that came directly from student input include a dining area, an event space that is free of obstructive columns, a fitness center and a meditation room that can be used by students of multiple faiths and practices.

“We were able to keep all of the things that students really seem to feel were the most essential,” Kim said.

The Career Center, currently located in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building, will also be moved into the new center upon completion, Kim added.

Wolf said during the ceremony that never in the college’s 127-year history has there been a location where the college’s students, staff and faculty have been able to congregate. Wolf reiterated that funding for the estimated $50 million center will not be raised from tuition or endowment funds but instead from the sale of the University Center and other college properties. 

Columbia sold the University Center student housing building July 20 and received $74 million in revenue after paying debt on the building, which was then divided between its partners in the sale, Roosevelt University and DePaul University. Columbia’s proceeds from the sale were never made public, as reported Sept. 12 by The Chronicle.

“Over the past 18 months, the trustees have undertaken a deliberate and strategic realignment of the college’s real estate portfolio to allow the student center to become a reality in a fiscally prudent and responsible manner,” Wolf said.

Kim said during the ceremony that he is grateful the Board of Trustees decided to approve plans for the center during an uncertain time for the college and that he was thrilled the center’s construction was underway.

“[The ceremony] was really important for me because the simple act of picking up a shovel-full of dirt made me feel like we’re really going to do this,” Kim said. “We’ve been doing all of this planning work for about a year and a half and that’s been really exciting, but after a while it starts to feel like this idea.”