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Cornerstone unveiled

Barry McNamara
President Ditzler (left) and board chairman David Byrnes unveil the symbolic cornerstone at the Matriculation Day dedication ceremony.
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The distinction of being “the cradle of civilization” is already taken, so Monmouth College president Mauri Ditzler said that Monmouth will have to think of itself as “the Mesopotamia of the 21st century” if the potential of a new era at the college is indeed realized.

At the cornerstone ceremony for Monmouth College’s new $40 million Center for Science and Business on Aug. 20, Ditzler told the audience of trustees, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college to “dream big and be bold, and don’t be shy when you describe Monmouth College.”

One of Ditzler’s big dreams is that “100 years or 1,000 years from now, they will be talking about Monmouth College playing a major role in our society.”

The new academic building inspires those dreams as college officials imagine what could derive from intentionally integrating the academic disciplines of science and business. The solutions to some of the world’s biggest concerns for the future, including the supply of food and fuel, stem from scientific discovery and global distribution. Ditzler said that the heartland of the Midwest is the ideal place for those issues to be addressed and, regarding such future developments as extremely efficient crops, he added, “If we get it right, the future is bright.”

Joining Ditzler at the podium were State Sen. John Sullivan, Faculty Senate chair Stacy Lotz, student government president Alex Holt and board chairman David Byrnes. Introducing the speakers was MC’s vice president for strategic planning, Don Capener, who said, “I am thrilled to see this dream become a reality.”

Byrnes, who with his wife, Libby, made a $5.5 million gift to the building in 2007, said, “This ceremony for our new Center for Science and Business serves as both a celebration and a reminder of our commitment to reach the next level in our pursuit of academic excellence. This new facility will help us move closer toward that goal, but it is only a tool – granted a very big and expensive tool. We are confident that it will be transformational because of what will occur inside this building. It will be equipped with the most up-to-date teaching and learning opportunities for science and business in the Midwest.”

Sullivan likened a Monmouth College liberal arts education to his own experience at what was then known as Quincy College, where the smaller setting allowed him to really get to know the faculty and staff and was, “without a doubt, the best education I could have received. … Monmouth College carries on the same values that I learned at Quincy.”

Sullivan helped Monmouth College secure more than $3 million for the building project from the “Illinois Jobs Now!” capital bill.

“It was a long journey,” he said. “As we worked on this project, President Ditzler and I met a number of times over the past four or five years. Sometimes, there would be a step forward, sometimes a step back,” such as a lawsuit that was filed against the bill. But in the end, their work was a success, and Sullivan said he was “absolutely delighted” to be on campus to help the college celebrate its “fantastic facility.”

The Center for Science and Business will be located on the north side of the 700 block of East Broadway. Ground was broken during the summer, and the project should be completed by the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year.

Designed by the award-winning international firm Burt, Hill Inc., the 136,000 square-foot facility is being built by Pepper Construction. In addition to the Byrnes’ $5.5 million gift, a challenge from an anonymous trustee resulted in $6 million in new funding during the first half of 2011. Each of the college’s trustees donated to the project, as did President Ditzler and his wife, Judi.

The three-story building will feature 14 research labs, including ones for high-performance computing, nuclear physics, nutrition, ecology, psychology and anatomy. It also will include a tax preparation room, an astronomical observatory, a greenhouse and two large lecture halls.

Lotz said she has observed many changes during her 16 years on the faculty, including the transformation of the western side of campus and major additions to athletics facilities.

“Now,” she said, “it’s time for academics to come into the spotlight. On behalf of the faculty, I would like to express our gratitude to the donors who made this possible.”

Holt, a senior from Evanston, voiced a similar sentiment.

“When the Huff Athletic Center was constructed, the college experienced a spike in enrollment and improvements in athletics. I have no doubt that the Center for Science and Business will do the same for academics.”

A 1972 graduate of Monmouth, Byrnes said he was struck by how similar his MC experience was compared to the new students who officially matriculated later in the day. During his four years on campus, the Haldeman-Thiessen Science Center was built.

“I recall being amazed by the new facilities,” he said.

Byrnes believes amazement will only be part of the story when the Center for Science and Business is up and running.

“By having a major building on campus designed to specifically facilitate discussion and collaboration among students and faculty from a wide range of disciplines and circumstances, we are sending a message that Monmouth is an innovator in liberal arts education,” said Byrnes. “Building this academic complex is the right decision at the right time. We could have chosen other projects from a long list of things we would like to do for our college. But we fully believe that constructing this building now is by far the single most important thing we can do to have the greatest impact on the future of our college and our students.”