Alverno to begin $30 million campus project next spring

With a $30 million expansion and renovation project set to break ground at its Milwaukee campus next spring, Alverno College will embark on the largest campus improvement project in its 126-year history.

The project, which the college announced in December, will not only update Alverno’s facilities with state-of-the-art amenities, but also increase classroom and workspace capacity to accommodate the school’s growing student population.

The college’s campus on the south side of Milwaukee, which it moved into in 1952, was designed for 800 students, according to Mary Meehan, president of Alverno College. Today, enrollment at the women’s college is almost 2,600 students.

“We knew we needed to look at the entire campus and plan for the future,” Meehan said.

The renovated commons area will double in size.

The project will include a new three-story, 50,000-square-foot building; a 13,500-square-foot building addition; and 125,000 square feet of building renovations, all designed by Milwaukee-based Uihlein Wilson Architects. Construction work, managed by J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., will begin this year, with a groundbreaking ceremony in March. Alverno aims to complete construction by fall 2015.

The new building on campus will ensure space for nine high-tech classrooms and will double the amount of space designated for art and dance education, since nearly 40 percent of Alverno students take courses in art and dance each year. The extra space will allow for a new student art gallery and art and dance studios within the learning environment.

A heritage plaza will offer the Alverno community outdoor seating and meeting options near the dining hall.

The new building will also house a nursing simulation center for students studying in the JoAnn McGrath School of Nursing, which has the largest enrollment in the state, according to Alverno.

In addition, the project will double the size of the campus’ commons area to provide more gathering space for students, faculty and staff. The renovated commons area will include a larger food service area, a coffee shop and private group study rooms. A heritage plaza, created to honor the School Sisters of St. Francis who founded Alverno College, will provide outdoor seating connected to the dining hall. And a new “Student Main Street” will consolidate advising, financial aid, career planning and other student services in one location adjacent to the commons.

Another renovation will reconfigure the setup of the college’s current conference center in the Sister Joel Read Center to ensure more meeting flexibility and easier traffic flow. In gratitude for a gift from the Bucyrus Foundation, the conference center will be renamed the Bucyrus Conference Center.

Along with these improvements, Alverno will introduce a number of “green” elements, including energy-efficient lighting and energy-efficient heating and air conditioning as well as environmentally-friendly flooring, furnishings and fixtures. A green roof atop the expanded commons area will help absorb rainfall and reduce reflected heat.

Alverno’s first priority in plotting out the details of the expansion and renovation focused on establishing more room for teaching and learning needs, Meehan said. The need for more collaborative student workspaces was also very apparent, she said.

“We spent some time really planning around what were our most compelling needs, and this is clearly what emerged,” Meehan said.

To cover the costs of the campus enhancements, Alverno has been engaged in a fundraising campaign since 2011 through which it has raised $27 million of the $30 million needed. The campaign has been spearheaded by Paul Purcell, chief executive officer of Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.; Don Layden, a partner with Quarles & Brady LLC; and Ellen Gardner, a retired president of Ameritech-Wisconsin.

Campus officials have been adamant that all improvements will be financed through fundraising, not through hikes in tuition.

“Clearly we knew we were growing, but we knew we didn’t have an open-ended budget,” Meehan said. “We were going to be limited by what we could raise.”

To see the campaign through, the college plans to turn to its alumni for financial support with hopes of completing all fundraising by next August.

As Alverno inches closer to the $30 million mark, Meehan said the college’s progress is a positive note for the entire community.

“I feel that after the (economic downturn), as things begin to bounce back, people are excited to see a school, particularly a school of our size, have a significant fundraising goal and be able to accomplish that goal,” Meehan said.

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