Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a misspelling of historic preservation commission member Tom Ryan's name.
North Central College is getting a new science center.
Despite neighbors' concerns about the size of the 125,000-square-foot building, the college received Naperville City Council approval Tuesday night to go forward with the plan.
The council, by a 7-1 vote, overturned an earlier denial of the building by the city's historic preservation commission. The vote means North Central College can continue seeking $60 million worth of donations for the 48-foot-tall, three-story science center that will house laboratories, classrooms and faculty offices within the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.
"This facility is really a linchpin to the strength of this college going forward," North Central College President Troy Hammond said.
The college hopes to begin construction on the science center on Loomis Street south of Van Buren Avenue by summer 2015, Hammond said. But first, it will have to demolish a dormitory and demolish or sell and move five historic houses.
The historic preservation commission's denial of the science center hinged on concerns about the height and bulk of the building as well as the loss of the historic houses.
"This isn't about black and white; this is about how this building fits among the neighborhood," said Tom Ryan, a member of the historic preservation commission who spoke Tuesday to the city council. "That's what the historic preservation commission is about."
City council members who voted to overturn the commission's denial said the building actually is within all zoning regulations for height and size. Inside the college and university district where the building will fall, there is a 50-foot height limit, and the science center complies as designed.
"They're not overbuilding here," council member Grant Wehrli said. "They're building what they need for their school to remain at the high level of education they offer."
Council member Joseph McElroy voted against allowing the college to demolish the six buildings on the site and build the science center. Council member Judith Brodhead excused herself from the discussion and vote because she is an employee of North Central College. "The issue is how this particular plan will affect this neighborhood," McElroy said. "I believe it will hurt the neighborhood."
Several neighbors who spoke to the council agreed, saying the science center's design is too dense, too close to the street and too overpowering.
"The building that they're proposing is really out of keeping with the neighborhood," nearby resident Page Hayward said.
North Central officials said they were grateful to the city council for swiftly overturning the decision that would have prevented the science center from being built.
"I began my tenure last January with the priority of addressing dire facility needs within the sciences. It's about maintaining our strength as an institution," Hammond said. "We firmly believe that we have developed the right size and identified the right location for this facility."