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DePaul's 10-Year Master Plan Has Seen Successes, Delays

By Paul Biasco | February 24, 2014 6:41am
 A rendering of the proposed DePaul University Music School building on Halsted Avenue between Fullerton and Belden Avenues.
A rendering of the proposed DePaul University Music School building on Halsted Avenue between Fullerton and Belden Avenues.
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LINCOLN PARK — Halfway through DePaul University's 10-year Master Plan to transform its campus, millions of dollars in projects have been completed. But some items on the wish list, announced in 2009, have been delayed as enrollment unexpectedly dipped.

So far, the school's effort to modernize and connect the campus has resulted in award-winning structures that officials say is helping it become one of the best Catholic universities in the nation.

Other facets of the 2009 plan — including the construction of a new School of Music building, turning a block of Kenmore Avenue into a more pedestrian-friendly, Dutch-inspired "woonerf," a dorm along that woonerf, and a proposal for a mixed-use project at Fullerton and Sheffield avenues — remain in flux, however.

 A rendering of the proposed Kenmore Woonerf on DePaul Unviersity's Lincoln Park campus.
A rendering of the proposed Kenmore Woonerf on DePaul Unviersity's Lincoln Park campus.
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DePaul University

What has been built has been significan. The completion of Cacciatore Stadium soccer and softball facility in the fall of 2010 was followed by the $7.8 million three-story DePaul Art Museum in September of 2011.

The school completed a 119,000-square-foot Arts & Letters Hall with 47 classrooms in 2011 and most recently the $72 million theater school building, which is serving as the new western gateway to DePaul on Fullerton Avenue.

"We are tracking right on target," said Bob Janis, DePaul's vice president of facilities operations. "We have four of the five key projects complete."

The fifth project actively on the school's radar is construction of a state-of-the-art performance center on North Halsted Street between Fullerton and Belden Avenues and converting an existing concert hall into an opera hall. The current Music School building would also be adapted for offices and teaching studios.

The new music building calls for a 535-seat concert hall, a 150-seat recital hall and a 80-seat recital hall.

That project would involve knocking down McGaw Hall to make way for the new building and was originally slated to begin construction in 2014. But that timetable is unlikely due to a drop in enrollment at DePaul, according to school executives.

As part of the Master Plan, the school anticipated a yearly increase of one to two percent to its enrollment, but saw a modest decrease over the past two years, according to Robert Kozoman, DePaul's executive vice president.

"We are literally talking on the order of less than one percent and less than two percent last year and this year, but nonetheless even a modest decline like that does put some economic pressure on operations," Kozoman said. 

DePaul's enrollment is currently 24,414.

Kozoman estimated that expenses related to faculty and building operations make up about 75 percent of the university's costs, and there is little wiggle room for the next 25 percent.

"At this point we are still talking about what's the right start date for [the music building]," he said. "We are not in bad shape, but we've had this mild disruption in enrollment, which is just sufficient to cause us to want to be very careful in our capital planning."

At the earliest, construction could begin in January of 2015, but that may or may not take place depending on fall 2014 enrollment numbers, Kozoman said.

"If we see a continuation of even mild downturns, it could push it off for some number of months," he said.

The music school is now operating in what was once a church, which wasn't designed acoustically for its current tasks, according to Kozoman.

With both the theater school and music school gaining national recognition, the plan hopes to anchor the west and east ends of campus with cutting-edge performing arts centers that will serve as architecturally significant gateways to the campus.

"They both, in a very real way, will serve as an amenity to the campus, just like a quadrangle does, just like a library does," Kozoman said. 

Another project in flux is transforming a one-way street that cuts through the heart of campus. 

The original proposal was to shut down all traffic to Kenmore Avenue and turn the street into a "Kenmore Green" but was denied after a community meeting in the fall of 2012. DePaul officials are hopeful a plan to turn the street into a more "livable" roadway, called a woonerf, can move forward.

The woonerf would allow cars to continue to use Kenmore, but the block would be reconstructed with a curving roadway, landscaping and built-in seating to caise vehicles to travel at slower speeds and give priority to pedestrians and cyclists.

Kozoman said the school's move to shut down a block of Seminary Avenue several years ago to create the school's quadrangle served to connect the campus. "It made it feel like a more residential destination campus than a set of buildings in a neighborhood," Kozoman said of the quad.

The woonerf on the Kenmore block, "wouldn't be as dramatic, but it would still be nice to create a more cohesive campus core."

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) came up with the idea of turning Kenmore into a woonerf to allow slow traffic and bicycles to pass through a more pedestrian-focused street, but faced some neighborhood backlash against the plan, which would result in a loss of 47 free parking spots on Kenmore.

Janis said he would characterize the current status of the woonerf as "pending."

"There are continued conversations on it, but nothing's firmed up at this point," Janis said.

DePaul would make up for the loss of spots by providing community access to a a number of parking lots on campus.

The final pieces of the Master Plan, a new dormitory and a mixed-use project that could include a boutique hotel and a new welcome center, are a ways off.

The first would involve creating new undergraduate residence halls along Kenmore Avenue between Fullerton and Belden where the woonerf is proposed. The proposal would involve demolishing the existing 17 Sanctuary Town Homes and creating a five-story typical studio-style dorm with 400 beds.

The plan was to build the dorm to handle increased enrollment, but with the current numbers, the project doesn't look likely in the near future.

"This one there isn't any real pressure at this point," Kozoman said.

The final piece of the plan is to transform 1040 W. Fullerton Avenue, which is currently a parking lot and DePaul welcome center, into a mixed-use project won't be considered until 2019 at the earliest, according to DePaul officials.

The proposed project, a "front door" to campus, calls for a six-story complex with a 140-room boutique hotel, residences for students transitioning from freshman to sophomore year, facility space, retail space, a new welcome center, and parking.

"This one is the furthest out of any of the planning in that book in terms of when it might get done," Kozoman said.