Friday, December 19, 2014

New Look ahead for OU

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 2/7/2014

Spring not only brings the promise of a new season. It is expected to usher in a new look and era at Ottawa University.

The steel framework of the Gibson Student Center should begin to take shape in the coming weeks on the OU campus, 1001 S. Cedar St., Kevin Eichner, OU president, said. Then May 11, the day after OU commencement, the Mowbray Student Union is set to be torn down to make room for the new Gangwish Library, Eichner said.

Once constructed, the 43,000-square-foot library and attached student center will serve the university community with state-of-the-art technology, student services, dining and conference amenities, the president said.

Eichner and Clark Ribordy, OU’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, met Monday with representatives from Loyd Builders, 2126 S. Elm St., Ottawa, the primary contractor for the two-phase project.

“They told me we should start seeing the steel go vertical in the next couple of weeks, weather permitting,” Eichner said Tuesday during a driving snow storm. He chuckled. “Of course, this weather isn’t helping our construction schedule. [Loyd Builders] has got the pedal to the metal as do we, and we’re shooting for July 15 as the target date to complete the first phase, [which is the Gibson Student Center], so it will be open when we resume classes in the fall.”

The second phase, construction of the Gangwish Library, is scheduled for completion in late July or early August 2015, in time for OU’s sesquicentennial celebration, Eichner said. The university, which was founded in 1865, is in the midst of planning activities to mark its 150th anniversary next year. One such activity could include the Ottawa Indian Tribe conducting a powwow on campus, he said.

“When the library portion is completed, this actually feels like all one building instead of two buildings, and that was intentional,” Eichner said. “The flow between the dining era and the lounge area and the library and the meeting areas and the student activity areas is going to be pretty much seamless. It’s going to be terrific.”

Marguerite Gibson and the Carl and Carrie Gangwish family each donated $1 million toward the more than $10 million project, and the two buildings will carry their names.


OU officials have worked with Sodexo Campus Services, the university’s food service provider, to come up with a new concept for the dining facilities to be housed in the student center.

“The most exciting change is we really developed a new dining concept for student, faculty and staff and the best way to describe it is we’re moving away from an institutional cafeteria concept to what most people would relate to as a food court,” Eichner said. “There are six different food platforms of various types and all of our guests and students can select from those platforms.

“Instead of it being open three times a day, it will be open throughout the day and well into the evening, so that it will facilitate acting as a gathering place for students, faculty and staff,” Eichner said. “We spent a lot of time with the Sodexo people on the concept and redesigning it, and they are going to be putting in some new concepts just here at Ottawa University as a result of that. We are pretty excited about it.”

OU students not only embraced the student center, they have played an active role in some of its design, Eichner said.

“The whole student activity center portion of this is 90 percent their design as far as what’s going to be there and what it’s going to look like,” Eichner said. “They have been helping us plan it and give us direction and feedback. Everyone is excited that it’s going to be open throughout the day and into the evening.”

Eichner is hopeful the community will want to make use of the Gibson Student Center as well, he said.

“We will be able to seat 350 people at dinner upstairs,” he said. “We will have a major conference center on the second floor designed way beyond what we have currently. It can seat as many as 500 people for presentations and lectures. So it will create a whole new venue in the community, and we plan to rent it for weddings and special events ... it really is intended to invite the entire community onto this campus and hopefully help people feel more a part of what’s going on here.”


The new library and student center, which represents the largest single building project ever undertaken by the university, OU officials have said, also serves as the centerpiece of the university’s $24.3 million Advancing the Vision Capital Campaign, Eichner said.

Funds raised during the campaign are slated to enhance facilities and strengthen academic programming, scholarships, the endowment, athletics and a number of other areas of the university, OU officials said.

Thus far, the university has raised about $21.3 million in cash and pledges toward the $24.3-million goal, Eichner said.

“We have focused on our major donors up until now,” Eichner said. “We’re going to be launching more of a public mass appeal campaign here shortly to raise the rest of the funds.”

Eichner is hopeful the university can raise an additional $3.5 million to $4 million for the library and student center, which has expanded in scope from its original design, he said.

Notable features of the new facility will be Hetrick Hall, the dining venue; the Schendel multi-purpose and conference area that seats up to 500 people on the second floor; the Blackboard Center for Academic Innovation and Technology; the Scherich Atrium in the Grand Hall entry area; Myers circulation desk; Mabee second floor reception area; Hasty and Zook technology-enabled conference rooms; multiple classrooms; the Pelton Grill; a rear-access concession area and an expanded bookstore.

Outdoor elements will “showcase an expansive dining area, including the Mowbray Plaza/Patio, and a distinctive fire and water fountain feature designed to honor OU’s connection with the Ottawa tribe.

“We received a major gift from the Ottawa Indian tribe of $100,000, and that will go to a water and fire feature out in front of the library, so it will be fountains and a fire feature in honor of the history of the tribe with Ottawa University,” Eichner said. “It will be a signature design element in front, with a [Mowbray Plaza] promenade between the fire and water feature and the opening to the building.”

As part of the building project, alumni and friends of the university can purchase commemorative bricks that will comprise the exterior walkway of Mowbray Plaza. For more information on this and other giving/naming opportunities, go to

Eichner said the bond between the Ottawa tribe and the university is a special one, adding the tribe’s donation meant a great deal to the university.

In fact, he said, the project has become quite personal for a lot of folks who have had a hand in it or have contributed funds toward its completion.

“We still have room for some more naming donors in that building,” Eichner said. “I would be delighted to meet with anyone who is excited about this [project] and would like to find out how they might participate.

“If you really look at our facilities, the student union and cafeteria are probably the most tired of all the facilities that we have on this campus, and so we’re going to have amenities unlike anything we’ve ever had,” Eichner said. “It’s going to be beautiful, and it will be rich with Ottawa University history and infused with OU spirit.”

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