The Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action long has been Aurora University's venue for Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebrations, Passover seders and discussions about international events.
The university now will expand the building to add a larger space for such discussions, worship services and gatherings, President Rebecca Sherrick said.
"We would use the new space for everything from packing gift boxes to send overseas to working with students in classes to having a worship services," Sherrick said.
The addition is the first project to be built on land the university recently purchased south of its original campus, and it's expected to cost between $650,000 and $800,000. The Aurora City Council approved the addition Tuesday night after initial neighbor questions about what the university plans to do with the 1.3-acre Wackerlin Center property were answered.
"They really didn't know what was going on and just wanted to be kept abreast," Alderman Mike Saville said about nearby residents. "They wanted to make sure (the addition) was in keeping with the master plan the city has adopted for Aurora University."
The university has developed master plans with the city three times since Sherrick became president 12 years ago, she said.
"The big question was 'Where will the university grow?'" she said. "The unanimous direction we've gotten from the city was that we were to grow to the south."
The university has bought the majority of the properties between Prairie Avenue and the original south end of its campus at Southlawn Place. Future projects including a welcome center, a centennial gateway and a school for elementary and middle school students proficient in science, technology, engineering and math also will be built on land acquired along Prairie, Sherrick said.
The university now has raised sufficient funds to expand the Wackerlin Center to house reflection sessions before and after campuswide service events such as a campout on the quad staged to help students understand homelessness.
"We would use this space afterward as a gathering place to talk about how that experience went, to talk about what they learned, but also to talk about the meaning," Sherrick said.
The addition will replace a multicar garage near the building.
The Wackerlin Center is a home designed by the Chicago architecture firm of Keck and Keck and inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.
"When we bought the building, the city asked us not to tear it down, but to use it," Sherrick said. "We're committed to maintaining the architectural integrity of the house."