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NEIU's El Centro Campus Unveiled: 'This is Great for the Neighborhood'

By  Darryl Holliday and Mauricio Peña | October 1, 2014 2:06pm 

 Northeastern Illinois University celebrated the opening of its new El Centro campus Tuesday in Avondale.
Northeastern Illinois University celebrated the opening of its new El Centro campus Tuesday in Avondale.
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

AVONDALE — Carolina Gomez, a social work student at Northeastern Illinois University, praised the school's new El Centro campus Tuesday and said it was a welcome addition to Avondale.

"This is great. It's great for the neighborhood," Gomez said of the campus at 3390 N. Avondale Ave., a few miles south of its main location at 5500 N. St. Louis Ave. on the city’s Northwest Side. “The main campus is shared with an alternative high school so it's nice that this campus is all for us.”

Latasha Morgan, also a social work student, said the new campus is much closer and more accessible than the more “congested” main campus.

“This is definitely positive for the community,” she said.

 NEIU's new El Centro campus.
Construction Nearly Complete on Avondale's El Centro Campus
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The students made their remarks as a host of local and national politicians — as well as faculty and community members — came out for a ribbon-cutting for the state-of-the-art structure Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (an NEIU grad), Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ald. Rey Colon (35th) and state Sen. Iris Martinez were all on hand.

The campus is targeting immigrants, minorities and first-generation college students.

“My fellow immigrants, we know the immigrant struggle. We know we’re stronger because we gather from all corners of the earth,” Durbin told the crowd. “We dedicate a building today but we do much more. This new building is a symbol of what we’ll be as a nation.”

After about a year of design and a second year of construction from scratch, the new El Centro Campus began classes in September.

“The only thing I will miss driving by now is watching it being built,” Emanuel said.

The 66,000-square-foot environmentally-friendly building is bordered by Henderson Street and Drake and Avondale avenues. The $27 million building includes 17 classrooms, a computer lab, science labs, a student lounge, a rooftop with solar panels and seminar rooms.

The campus’ mission “encapsulates the American dream” and “goes to the spirit of education,” Emanuel said. “On behalf of the entire city of Chicago, we thank you.”

The three-story, which sits on three acres, will serve as "an anchor” for the Latino community, said NEIU president Sharon Hahs, whose leadership was credited for pushing the constructing of El Centro.

The new campus will be led by Maria Luna-Duarte, a former undocumented immigrant, Enlace community liaison and NEIU grad who'll receive her doctorate at the University of Illinois Chicago.

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