Highlands University officials say plans for a new student center are moving forward.
But at least one resident in a nearby historic neighborhood promises to oppose the school’s purchase of Eighth Street lots for a parking lot.
The university plans to go out to bid for the new student center early next year, with construction slated to start in the spring. Construction is expected to last 18 months, with completion sometime in 2011.
The three-story center will replace Mortimer Hall at Eighth Street and National Avenue, a building the school plans to demolish. Officials see Mortimer as outdated and nonfunctional.
The student center will take more space than Mortimer, consuming a big chunk of an existing parking lot along Eighth. So the university is reportedly considering buying three properties — 824, 826 and 828 Eighth, which are within the New Town Historic District.
The school plans to raze the buildings on those lots to make way for the parking lot.
But Joe McCaffrey, a resident on Seventh Street, is against the plan. Last week, he sent out a mass e-mail urging others to join him.
“I am opposed to any intrusion into the historic district by the university no matter how meritorious. I am simply dismayed that the university will not respect the boundaries of the historic district,” McCaffrey said in the e-mail.
He said he plans to express his opposition with the university’s Board of Regents, the state Board of Finance and the state Department of Cultural Affairs.
Highlands spokesman Sean Weaver said the university is trying to make sure the building blends in with the neighborhood, adding that Highlands has much respect for the nearby historic areas.
“That was a very conscious choice by the university,” he said. “”It will be an impressive building. People in the community have been really excited about this.”
In a press release last month, Highlands President Jim Fries said the state’s budget problems aren’t expected to affect the financing for the new student center, which is estimated at $18 million. Final costs will be determined through the bid process.
The center will include a dining facility for the residence halls, a flexible theater space that can also be used for lectures and dances, student service offices for Campus Life and Housing, a computer lab and a game room.
It will also feature multicultural conference space, a ballroom, a campus bookstore, a campus post office, a cafe, a copy center and an executive boardroom for campus governance groups.
A skywalk is expected to connect the center to the university library.
“The new student center will be a center of activity for our campus,” Fries said in a statement. “It will offer new amenities that will enhance the quality of campus life for our growing student body.”