September 17, 2015 at 11:45am

With less than four months remaining in Millikin University's $85 million "Transform MU" capital campaign (TMU), university officials unveiled architectural renderings of the new University Commons, one of the campaign's three building projects. A groundbreaking for the 87,000-square-foot facility is scheduled for November, with construction expected to be in full swing in early 2016 and completion 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 and Staley Library will invigorate campus life," says Dr. Patrick E. White, Millikin University president. "As a new front door to campus, the Commons will re-energize campus learning and living spaces in the center of campus and become a natural home for collaborative learning efforts among faculty, students and administrators."

"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 Commons, built in and around Staley Library, will be a center for academic resources and activity of all kinds," says Dr. Jeffery Aper, provost. In addition to the Staley Library – which will be reconfigured to permeate and infuse library access throughout the entire building – the Commons will house the University's Math Center, Writing Center, Media Arts Center, WJMU radio station and a New Technologies Lab. "As a space for research, innovation, and application, the University Commons will support opportunities for outstanding new connections, collaboration, and achievement for students, faculty, and staff at 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. Future options under consideration for the existing Richards Treat University Center include evaluating its potential as additional space for the Theatre and Dance program.

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.

"Diane and I look forward to seeing the University Commons become a reality in this exciting project," said Oberhelman. "We're proud to be part of Millikin's initiative to create an innovative learning environment for the next generation of leaders."

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.

University Commons plans

Last October, 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 at $93.5 million, and donations are accepted through December 2015 for the building projects and other campaign priorities, including student scholarships and faculty development.

"We hope to break ground on the Center for Theatre and Dance during the construction phase for the new University Commons," says White. "And we are still actively raising funding for needed renovations and equipment for the Exercise Science and Sport Pavilion."

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. White notes that since February 2012, donors have given an average of more than $1 million each month to the "Transform MU" campaign, a clear sign that alumni and friends of the university consider it to be a solid investment.

"We have thought for many years that Millikin is a wonderful place to support with charitable gifts because the university is a good steward of our gifts, and we can see firsthand the fruits of our philanthropy," say Duane and Joan Avis of Decatur, both class of 1953. "We have supported several building projects as well as establishing an endowed scholarship."

"The university needs top-quality facilities to continue attracting top students who will thrive through the Performance Learning education offered only at Millikin," the Avises add. "In addition, our scholarship enables us to meet the student recipients and hear stories of their Millikin experiences and dreams. What better way could we participate in the future?"

In addition to the new University Commons, initiatives within the campaign include:

Exercise Science & Sport Pavilion Renovation – fundraising continues

The building formerly known as West Towne Square, located on the corner of West Wood Street and Oakland Avenue, has been home to all Exercise Science & Sport (ESS) faculty and most ESS courses since shortly after the building was purchased. Millikin had the opportunity to purchase West Towne Square in 2011 for $3 million after receiving generous gifts from Decatur's Demirjian and Romano families. Efforts continue to raise the estimated $2 million plus needed for renovations and equipment for this facility.

New Center for Theatre & Dance – fundraising continues

To date, more than $10.7 million has been committed by donors toward creating a new $15.5 million Center for Theatre & Dance, one of the university's most high-profile national programs. Plans for the project included renovation and expansion of the Old Gym, one of the University's oldest and most historic structures. University officials are also exploring other options.

Renovations to Frank M. Lindsay Field, completed last September. The project included a new artificial playing surface, field lighting, resurfaced track and a video scoreboard with a new sound system. The field is now multi-purpose and, in addition to hosting home football and men's and women's soccer games, is used for intramural sporting activities. Total cost for the field turf project was $1.75 million and was 100 percent donor funded.

New and existing endowed scholarships. Although the original goal within the campaign was to raise $10 million in scholarship support of new and existing endowed scholarships, to date donors have given more than $19 million in endowed scholarship support, and 130 new named scholarships have been established during the campaign in memory or honor of individuals. During the past academic year, students needed more than $35.7 million in student financial aid, including endowed scholarships, in order to make their dreams of a Millikin education come true.

Faculty endowment fund. More than $2.1 million has been committed to date toward the $2.3 million goal. This fund helps ensure that MU's faculty have the resources and opportunities they need to advance their skills as educators and further their students' academic success in all majors.

The Millikin Fund for Student Scholarships. For the first five years, this annual scholarship and operating fund was a sub-goal within the TMU campaign, raising more than $14.7 million to help fill the gap created by the actual costs of the MU student experience and what families can afford to pay. During the last Millikin fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2015, donations to the now self-standing Millikin Fund for Student Scholarships topped out at more than $2.65 million, the second highest total in University history for this annual fund and following a record $2.7 million during the previous fiscal year.

"As I have said many times in recent months, 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