November 6, 2015 at 12:30pm

Millikin University officially broke ground on its new University Commons during a ceremony held on Nov. 6 outside Staley Library. Construction on the 87,000-square-foot facility is expected to be in full swing by early 2016 and completed prior to the start of the fall 2017 semester.

With the exception of Shilling Hall, an original Millikin structure erected in 1902, the new University Commons is the largest building project in university history in terms of square footage. The $27 million University Commons including the Staley Library will be created through a blending of both old and new as the original Staley Library structure, completed in 1976, is completely renovated and a large addition is constructed on the south side of the building.

The new University Commons is one of three building projects under Millikin University's $85 million "Transform MU" capital campaign (TMU). Architectural renderings of the new University Commons were unveiled on Sept. 17, 2015.

University Commons Groundbreaking

"The University Commons is a building that will transform Millikin University as it becomes the focus of so much learning and conversation for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and Millikin supporters and friends in the community," says Dr. Patrick E. White, Millikin University president. "The Commons will be our gathering place, the main street of our lives together, as our students grow as leaders and democratic citizens in a global environment."

Millikin University officials have been working for several months with Hastings + Chivetta, a St. Louis architectural firm, to finalize designs for the Commons, soliciting input and feedback from the campus community. The innovative new design incorporates the existing Staley Library, including a reimagined collection and university archives, throughout the new space. Although original intentions were to raze the existing Richards Treat University Center and rebuild a new university center on the same footprint, plans for the new Commons came to fruition in recent months by extending the Staley Library building as a more efficient and forward-thinking design for such a facility.

"Millikin has such a vibrant student population," says Raphaella Prange, dean of students. "What is needed is a place to enhance students' campus life experiences. The Commons is the perfect solution, since some of the most important education at college occurs outside the classroom. From traditional student to PACE student to graduate student, from residential student to commuter student, from faculty member to alumni and community members, this new University Commons will be everyone's home base and living room at Millikin."

The Caterpillar Foundation and Caterpillar Inc. Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman, a 1975 Millikin graduate, and his wife, Diane, provided support to create the new Commons. Their contributions will help fund three areas: The new University Commons and the Oberhelman Center for Leadership Performance which will be housed therein; a new Center for International Education which is also included in the Commons; and the Long-Vanderburg Scholars program which supports scholarships and programming for minority students.

The Oberhelman Center for Leadership Performance will provide emerging and seasoned student leaders the opportunity to share resources and develop practical leadership skills in management, marketing and technical areas in a synergistic space featuring student organizations, student collaboration, and laboratory incubators.

Other funding for the Commons was achieved primarily through donor gifts, though the university also secured a bond of $8 million to provide additional funding. Among the other numerous generous donors to the project are three families who each made seven-figure commitments to fund construction of the new University Commons: MU Trustee Debi Breeding Johnston '89 and her husband, Bob; the late Robert Moorehead '46 and his wife, Charlotte Beesley Moorehead '47; and David J. Rathje '58 and his wife, Debbie.

In October 2014, university officials announced that the TMU campaign had exceeded its monetary goal 14 months early. At that time, President White had noted that the campaign would continue through its planned conclusion at the end of 2015 in order to raise remaining funds for the three campus building projects: the new University Commons, a new Center for Theatre and Dance, and an Exercise Science and Sport Pavilion. The current campaign total stands more than $94 million, and donations are accepted through December 2015 for the building projects and other campaign priorities, including student scholarships and faculty development.

"It has been most gratifying to see the length and breadth of support from Millikin's constituency during Transform MU," said Dave Brandon, vice president of Alumni & Development. "I am pleased to report that, as of this date, Transform MU efforts have oversubscribed the campaign's $85 million goal by more than $9 million, registering commitments totaling more than $94 million in support of university needs as outlined in the campaign."

The "Transform MU" campaign was officially launched in May 2010 to help revitalize Millikin's campus through significant advances in creating new student scholarships, increasing endowment and faculty development funds, and improving infrastructure. Completion of the three major building projects was also a priority.

Brandon notes, "It is especially significant that loyal Millikin alumni, non-alumni friends of the university, as well as benevolent corporations and foundations, have committed nearly $20 million in the past five years to endowed scholarships at Millikin which are truly gifts that keep giving."

"Our entire community is charged with energy, and we are working to invest in our beautiful University so that today's students and future generations will continue to benefit from Millikin's Performance Learning," White says. "These building projects are integral to ensuring that our students, now and in the future, will have the supportive learning and living environments they need to thrive while on campus and after graduation in their careers."

For more information on Millikin's "Transform MU" capital campaign, call Millikin's Alumni and Development Office at 217.424.6383.

Millikin University is a private, comprehensive university with a diverse student population of approximately 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students. A Millikin education features Performance Learning, a unique learning approach offered only at Millikin that gives students the chance to build the confidence and skills to succeed before and after graduation. Millikin offers more than 50 majors in the College of Fine Arts, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Professional Studies and Tabor School of Business, and is located on a 75-acre residential campus in Decatur, Ill. Last year, 96 percent of Millikin graduates gained employment or admission into professional/graduate school within six months of graduation. More information is available at millikin.edu.