Wheaton College breaks ground on new welcome center

  • Wheaton College Provost Margaret Diddams, left, and President Philip Ryken are surrounded by confetti during a groundbreaking Tuesday for a new welcome center.

      Wheaton College Provost Margaret Diddams, left, and President Philip Ryken are surrounded by confetti during a groundbreaking Tuesday for a new welcome center. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wheaton College officials shovel dirt at the site of a new welcome center that is set to open in late 2017.

      Wheaton College officials shovel dirt at the site of a new welcome center that is set to open in late 2017. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wheaton College officials celebrated the groundbreaking of a new $4 million welcome center Tuesday that will be three times larger than the current admissions office.

      Wheaton College officials celebrated the groundbreaking of a new $4 million welcome center Tuesday that will be three times larger than the current admissions office. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Members of the Wheaton College community gathered Tuesday to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new welcome center on campus.

      Members of the Wheaton College community gathered Tuesday to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new welcome center on campus. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Orange lines in the grass mark the area where a new, $4 million welcome center will be constructed on Wheaton College's campus.

      Orange lines in the grass mark the area where a new, $4 million welcome center will be constructed on Wheaton College's campus. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wheaton College President Philip Ryken speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new welcome center.

      Wheaton College President Philip Ryken speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new welcome center. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wheaton College sophomore Jake Wierenga talks about a new era in hospitality at Wheaton College during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new, $4 million welcome center.

      Wheaton College sophomore Jake Wierenga talks about a new era in hospitality at Wheaton College during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new, $4 million welcome center. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/1/2016 6:26 PM

For Wheaton College President Philip Ryken, the groundbreaking for a new welcome center Tuesday was "a tangible expression of the biblical value that we place on hospitality."

"We want to welcome people to our campus with this goal in mind, that people will not only feel welcome but ultimately find a home on our campus," Ryken said.

 

The new $4 million, two-story, 11,600-square-foot center is scheduled to open in late 2017 at the corner of College Avenue and Chase Street. It is nearly three times larger than the current admissions office and will include a great hall with a fireplace and seating for 50, video and two-dimensional exhibits explaining the history of Wheaton College and alumni accomplishments, meeting rooms for large and small groups, and offices for counselors.

Shawn Wynne, director of undergraduate admissions, said a consultant looked at the school's admission and customer service practices about four years ago and recommended that significant improvements be made to the admissions office.

"We were unknowingly giving off subtle messages and subtle signs that we don't care if you come or not," she said. "No matter what we said, people came to that impression just because they're exasperated trying to find where we were and were underwhelmed by the place where we were presenting all the wonderful things Wheaton College has to offer."

A large crowd gathered at the site of the new building and prayed together. Participants then stood along the perimeter of the future building, marked in orange on the grass, and sang a hymn. Confetti was shot into the air as Wheaton College leaders scooped dirt with shovels while standing on welcome mats.

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"We have people traveling far and wide to come to us and we want them to come to a space that they can feel comfortable and relaxed in," Wynne said. "We are very thankful and very excited that this day has finally come."

College architect Bruce Koenigsberg said he believes the new building will be much easier for visitors to find.

"There are no buildings on the front lawn. It's kind of sacred space," he said. "By placing a singular building on the front lawn, it says this is special, it's the place to start your experience."

Once inside, large windows will give guests a clear view of the stadium, Blanchard Hall, the Billy Graham Center and students walking through campus.

"It's just a beehive of activity," Koenigsberg said. "You want see where the life and pulse of the campus is."

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