Friday, February 17, 2012

Student Center Project Update

We've erected signs at the site of our new Student Center, and so it's an appropriate time to provide you an update on our progress in meeting the needs of our residential campus. A student center has been on our campus master plan for over a decade.

Why do we need such a facility? Currently, our 1,200 Longview students have about 1,200 square feet of student center space they can use in the MSC. The Hive, Common Grounds, and limited tables are just not adequate for a student body that comes from all over the nation to call our campus home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our residential students need adequate space to study together, play together, talk together, and take full advantage of this wonderful Christ-centered community that we enjoy here at LETU. Likewise, our commuter students need space to be productive while on campus.

Our new student center will provide such a space. The center will include a beautiful commons gathering space with a variety of comfortable furnishings, lit by a dramatic 2-story glass wall that will provide a panoramic view of the campus mall. The Hive and Common Grounds will relocate to this building and will be a popular location to meet over a cup of coffee or a sandwich and enjoy conversation with others from across campus. Outside the interior commons, the large terraced patio will offer an ideal location for programmed events or just for relaxing outdoors. A game room that students have already been active in designing will provide a fun space for them to enjoy and build friendships and make lasting memories. A number of conference rooms will be available for students to study together in groups. A multi-purpose meeting space will be a busy place within this facility providing opportunity for small or large group gatherings and events. Student services and administrative support will also be conveniently placed in this building which is being constructed at the crossroads of student and faculty traffic between the Belcher Chapel and the Corner CafĂ©.

You get the idea: this center will change the way we work and study together. We expect this 60,000-square-foot building to cost $14 million to construct. The Board has previously identified $7 million in financing, and we have been working to seek the final $7 million from donors. We have already received a large naming gift, a significant foundation gift, and many other generous donations. In fact, we are about 80% to our fundraising goal, but we won't start construction until our fundraising is complete. Once construction is started, we anticipate the project to take 18 - 20 months to complete.
Why are we building new residence halls and student centers when our operating budgets are so tight? The decision to build South Hall was made when we were effectively at capacity for residential students. To not build South Hall would have been a decision to not grow enrollment or to grow only by adding commuter students. Likewise, the student center is required if we are to recruit and retain residential students. I don't see it as a luxury but a necessity to create the type of special Christ-centered experience that we seek for students. Our non-residential academic programs in GAPS are very important, but the heart of LeTourneau University is the unique experience we can offer students at the corner of Mobberly and Green. Facilities are important.

Why do we want to grow enrollment? First and foremost, we want to graduate more students each year because we are called to claim workplaces in every nation for Jesus Christ, and our students can be God's redemptive agents in those workplaces. Additionally, we need to grow enrollment to keep our residential campus economically viable. Today, our enrollment is too small to finance the type of outstanding educational experiences that we all want to provide our students. We have capacity to grow and if God so provides, you will see a difference in the funds available for our operating budget.

The student center is not the only fundraising effort underway. In fact, we are now talking with important friends about a comprehensive campaign for the university: a campaign that seeks gifts for student scholarship aid, faith and work programming, faculty development, and global service learning programming. We have needs in all these areas.

Fundraising has and will make a difference, but enrollment growth through more effective student recruitment and retention will make the biggest impact on the future of our campus. So many are hard at work to make this goal happen, and we will be successful. I am absolutely confident that God will complete the good work that he has started here at LeTourneau University.