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updated: 3/21/2014 12:51 PM

North Central College science center plans progressing

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Schematic designs are 70 percent complete for a new science center that will help North Central College in Naperville provide more opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, college officials told stakeholders gathered for a downtown advisory commission meeting.

The science center the college is designing with the help of prominent Chicago architecture firm Holabird & Root will be a 120,000-square-foot, 44-foot-tall building south of Van Buren Avenue between Loomis and Brainard streets.

"This is a transformative facility for us," said Jim Godo, North Central's assistant vice president for external relations.

The college wants to hire a construction contractor soon to ensure its cost estimate of $60 million is accurate and to help the project move forward as quickly as possible. Mike Hudson, assistant vice president for business operations, said immediate next steps include completing schematic designs and keeping neighbors and the city informed throughout the progress.

"By summer, we hope to be moving into design development," Hudson said. "We're starting to work with the architect to start thinking about the outside, what the building will look like."

The college has been gathering information on science center design practices since 2003, and preliminary designs for this building have been in the works since 2010, Hudson said. When President Troy Hammond took leadership early last year, plans to replace the 34-year-old Kroehler Science Center rose to the forefront. The site for the building was chosen last October.

The new center will include combined teaching and lab space, collaborative research space, communal areas for interdisciplinary work and additional classrooms.

College officials said they have informed nearby residents of science center plans for about the past year, but Loomis Street resident Denise Nigro voiced concerns at a recent city council meeting about the building's size, its potential to create noise pollution and its location within the North Central campus.

"The size of the building surpasses the scale of the other buildings to the extent that we can't even see a reasonable comparison in the neighborhood," Nigro said. "It really makes me wonder should a building of this magnitude and this use be placed so close to residences?"

Nigro said the new science center's site is not among three locations listed on the college's master plan for possible science building construction. Hudson said North Central did, indeed, choose a different site than originally planned in order to keep educational, housing and athletic buildings organized in a way that creates the "highest and best" use of campus land.

Picking a different site than those identified in the master plan is allowed without the college needing an amendment to the master plan, said Allison Laff, the city's planning and operations manager. The main purpose of the plan is to spell out the campus boundaries, so any college development planned outside the borders would trigger additional scrutiny. The site chosen for the science center is inside the boundaries.

"North Central has talked to the (city) staff to understand our regulations and what they're designing around," Laff said.

City council member Joseph McElroy praised the college for its past successes with historic preservation and challenged officials to make the science center fit in with its surroundings.

"I also think it's important that the building complement and fit in with the neighborhood," McElroy said.

Godo said the college will incorporate resident comments into designs for the building's exterior. But on a campus that's only a block wide in most spots, nearly any site for a large-scale building would be near homes.

"I think part of the issue here is it's kind of an unusual college campus," McElroy said. "It's like a block or two wide and really long, so it leads to some very difficult site planning issues."

Godo said the building's design will not ignore Loomis, although that side faces away from other campus buildings.

"We're not going to turn our backs on the neighborhood," he said.

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