McKendree building boom means school can attract more students

News-DemocratMarch 16, 2014 

McKendree University is undergoing a building boom that school leaders say will help attract students to the Lebanon campus.

A new sports training facility, a wrestling practice center and a new monument entrance to the school have been completed. Meanwhile, a major renovation of the Voigt Science Hall and a new student apartment building are in the works.

University President James Dennis said the developments are all things that will help McKendree stand out in a highly competitive playing field of attracting future students. He said agreements with private developers helped to fast track the projects and keep them affordable.

"What we're trying to do is maintain and add facilities that are both contemporary and attractive," Dennis said of the projects. "It helps us to recruit and maintain students in a changing world."

Dennis said the world of athletics has become very competitive with students searching for state of the art arenas and practice facilities in which to perform. But he said McKendree prioritizes having comfortable and appropriate places for students to live as well as classrooms, labs and lecture halls where students can learn in the best conditions possible.

"Sports are important to students," Dennis said. "But I still believe science is even more important."

Sports Performance

and Wrestling centers

Located at 109 Perryman St. in the Lebanon Commons strip center, these facilities were dedicated Friday.

The performance and wrestling center is a 7,500-square-foot training and practice facility for members of McKendree's 28 athletic teams, school Senior Vice President Victoria Dowling said. It is stocked with what are claimed to be the tallest squat racks made, 19,000 pounds of free weights, 2,400 square feet of artificial turf for sprints and sled drills and a floor made of the recycled soles of athletic shoes.

The furnishings of the Sports Performance and Wrestling centers, which Dennis said McKendree has leased for a term of 10-20 years, were given to the university as a gift.

Dowling said by leasing the space McKendree was able to provide better facilities for its athletes several years before it would have been able to do it if the school built the space itself.

"We have a policy that we don't build it until we've funded it," Dowling said. "So we're glad we could come to an arrangement where we could partner with a private developer and allow our students to benefit from them now."

Dean Oelze, builder of the Lebanon Commons strip center, is the developer of the property.

McKendree West


Construction will begin this summer on two-bedroom apartments that can accommodate 48 students. They'll be built by a private developer, the Locust Hills Partnership, which will lease them to students. Dennis said, in addition to not having to come up with the money up front to build the apartments, McKendree benefits from not owning them because the school is insulated from potential decreases in future student population that could possibly leave the building unfilled.

The apartment complex, on College Road adjacent to the campus, includes a swimming pool, clubhouse and sand volleyball court.

Dennis said, while students a couple of decades ago were satisfied to live in crowded dorms, today they want a residence experience that is more similar to the life they had at home with more privacy and amenities like a kitchen and a private shower instead of shared bathrooms.

Voigt Science Hall

Renovations will call for a complete gutting of the existing building as well as the construction of an addition.

Estimated to cost $15-20 million, about half the money has been raised for the project so far. Work could start as soon as two years from now. When it begins, the job will take 18 months to complete. It will be done in stages with one floor of the two-story building closed at a time and the other remaining open to students.

"We're going to basically build a brand new science building inside the historic, classic shell of the existing building," Dowling said.

Included in the updates are an elevator, reconfigured classrooms, all new electrical wiring and new gas lines.

Entryway monument

Dennis said the red brick structure that features three arches and a fountain out front is designed to help better advertise the university to visitors and passersby.

Previously, Dennis said, there was no permanent marker other than a hanging sign, similar to a real estate for sale sign, that marked the main entrance to the university near the corner of Belleville and St. Louis streets.

Dennis said the monument's arches are designed to be consistent with arched windows that appear in buildings across the campus. He envisions the fountain, which is at grade level and can be programmed to shoot water from its jets in a variety of patterns, as a place where children will come to play in the summer. He said the monument, as a whole, is expected to be a traditional place where freshman go to take pictures upon arrival at the campus and seniors snap shots on graduation day.

McKendree leaders did not reveal the cost of the monument. It was paid for with private donations. It was designed by Arcturis of St. Louis and built by Holland Construction of Swansea.

The entrance monument will be dedicated at 4:30 p.m. on April 26.

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