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Major IWU building project on pace to join 'innovation corridor'

Idea Center Whitney Meltz.jpg
Jason Reblando
/
Illinois Wesleyan University/
Illinois Wesleyan University student Whitney Meltz, class of '19, works with a 3D printer like the ones slated to go into the new $20-30 million Petrick Hall.

The president of Illinois Wesleyan University says the design phase of a new $20-30 million campus building is finishing up. Georgia Nugent said the Petrick Idea Center is on pace to open in the summer of 2025 on the southwest corner of the campus quad.

The center for entrepreneurship and innovation will include a maker space, student housing, and classroom meeting and outdoor space. Nugent said a visit to another campus to view its equivalent of the living-learning center showed staff how active such things can be.

"It's a facility that has a kind of vibe all the time, 24/7. People are going in there for coffee. They're playing music. They're holding events. They're doing entrepreneurial pitches. And we see this as the kind of facility that would have that kind of life in it," said Nugent.

She said IWU already has hired the first center director, and she anticipates the 50,000-square-foot facility also will serve a broader economic development function within Bloomington-Normal.

"We want very much to be a part of what has been called by city officials the innovation corridor. We want outreach and collaboration and partnership with local business and beyond. We have, for instance, a team of entrepreneurs and supporters of the center who are located in Chicago and we're connecting along that corridor, too," said Nugent.

She said the link between the center and the community can go both ways, with internship opportunities for students and for companies that can use the talents of students to help grow their businesses.

Most of the funding is in place, she added: there are two lead donors and Nugent anticipates it will be an attractive project for people to support.

Illinois Wesleyan probably will raze the Gulick residence hall to make room for the Petrick Idea Center, said Nugent. Gulick is a traditional dorm, mainly used to house first-year students.

"The majority of our residential space is the traditional double-loaded corridors, rooms on each side and a very regimented structure. We like that particularly for first-year students because it does quickly build community. You are living among a group of folks. You are sharing a common bathroom. All of that has some advantages. But we don't want all or even 60% of housing to be that," said Nugent.

Construction could begin this summer on a new apartment-style dorm along Park Street near The Gates residence halls to replace Gulick Hall, if financing works out. Nugent said it would be a third building in The Gates complex.

"We would love to have kind of developmental housing. As you move closer to graduation and a more adult living situation, we would love to grow our suite-like or apartment-like opportunities," said Nugent.

IWU also is completing its build-out of a Bloomberg Finance Lab that will have a dozen so-called Bloomberg machines, a state-of-the-art tool related to high finance, Nugent said.

"Those offer training that is immediately relevant if you are going to BlackRock, Inc., or if you are going to State Farm," said Nugent.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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