Ten years after opening, LU-Belleville is a thriving campus

News-DemocratDecember 25, 2013 

Lindenwood University in Belleville

TIM VIZER/BND

When Lindenwood University opened its Belleville campus 10 years ago there were a handful of students there to attend night time classes and even fewer part time teachers.

Former Lindenwood president Dennis Spellmann fretted about being able to fill all the space at the former Belleville Township High School campus on West Main Street. Meanwhile, Belleville residents mocked a three-way deal orchestrated by the city of Belleville to sell the former Belleville Township High School site from District 201 to Lindenwood for a dollar.

A decade later the wise cracks have stopped as Lindenwood has spent more than $25 million to completely rehab the 99 year old former high school campus, build a pair of new dorms as well as dozens of residential properties, expand degree offerings and add undergraduate and postgraduate fields of study to its night school offerings.

School leaders these days worry more about finding a place to put everything than they do about having enough people and programs to fill the campus.

Campus president Jerry Bladdick believes Lindenwood-Belleville could be overflowing its West Main Street location in another decade.

"To visualize the next 10 years is overwhelming to say the least," Bladdick said. "It's exhausting to think about what's happened here in the last 10 years, or even the last five since I became involved with this campus.

"The city, it's residence and all the employees get the credit for what has happened here," Bladdick said. "No one did it by themselves. But there is tremendous determination to continue to ride the wave of momentum"

Bladdick said, while much work has been done from the rehab and update classrooms, the campus auditorium and gyms, the student center and other Lindenwood-Belleville facilities, there is much more to do.

"The infrastructure on a property of this age must be continually improved," Bladdick said. "We've opened one dorm and we'll soon be breaking ground on a second. I can see another dorm or two in the future."

While Spellman was concerned about subleasing campus space because he didn't see Lindenwood being able to use the whole Belleville site by itself, the school recently let a lease with District 201 for office space on the site expire. That's allowed the school to create new office space and find places its growing operations.

"Since we dedicated the Senator Alan Dixon Center two years ago we've already outgrown the facilities there," Bladdick said. "We're able to take recaptured space from District 201 and move the library from the Dixon Center to the former school board meeting room, which is where the library was when the high school was here."

That move will allow the cafeteria services in the Dixon Center to be expanded to serve Lindenwood-Belleville's growing student population.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said, while city leaders have always had faith in Lindenwood, he's amazed to see just how successful the school has been and how quickly it got there.

"We couldn't be more pleased with Lindenwood. What they have accomplished in the last 10 years has been nothing short of remarkable," Eckert said. "I think we're going to see continued growth in a main corridor of the city. We're going to see more student population and we're seeing the school become more and more involved in the community. It's a winning situation for everyone."

About 1,900 students currently attend the Lindenwood-Belleville campus, about 1,040 of them full-time day students. He said those numbers could more than double by the end of the next decade to 4,500-5,000 students, which would represent the maximum capacity for the old high school site.

To attract more students the school plans to add numerous new degrees and specialties.

Graduate level programs in education and counseling are already in the works as are undergraduate programs in history, sociology, chemistry, fine and performing arts. Forensic science, international marketing and athletic training programs are also expected.

"Could we just grow and grow and grow?" Bladdick asked. "Probably. But that's not what we're here for. Our goal is to always be a small liberal arts college with great opportunities for our students to get personal attention and develop both as students and as people. I don't know that bigger is always better."

As the student population grows, so will the number of faculty and staff employees needed to serve them will increase accordingly, Bladdick said.

"Our goal is to have our entire faculty be terminally degreed," Bladdick said. "We currently have 94 or 95 percent of them terminally degreed. That's a pipe dream for a lot of schools. But having highly educated employees means adding well-paying, very good jobs to the local economy."

Eckert said, while Lindenwood-Belleville continues to evolve, the school is changing the city for the better.

"Belleville has had to reinvent itself a number of times in the last 200 years," Eckert said. "At one point it was known for stove manufacturing, then it was beer. Downtown was shopping Mecca for the region before St. Clair Square came along. At one time had 14 new car dealerships. I believe Higher education is truly what this area will be known for in its next chapter of history. Lindenwood draws a lot of positive attention to Belleville."

Eckert said the city hopes to build around Lindenwood in the future. He said the city plans to remake the streetscape from Sixth Street west to the school's campus like it was redone a few years ago downtown.

"We're working on our next master plan, our focus for the next 10-12 years," Eckert said. "Lindenwood is very much a part of it. We're working very hard on bringing a hotel to the area near the campus. I Hope we will have something on that in 2014. Lindenwood is very much a part of positioning Belleville for the future.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 239-2626.

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