Second — First Campus

Fifty years ago, Chicago was one of only three major cities in the United States without a comprehensive, public university. The University of Illinois filled this gap while breathing life into a dilapidated neighborhood, strengthening the city’s economic engine and proving a catalyst for social change's all while serving the educational needs of Chicago’s working families. The resulting University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) represents a model urban campus, with dynamic, multi-use spaces. How did UIC get here and where will they go next?

Built at a time when conventional wisdom called for placing campuses on sprawling, suburban sites, UIC’s plan benefited from the strong support of then-Mayor Richard J. Daley. Once funding was secured, development began on the 105-acre plot on Chicago’s near west side. While close bus and train lines and a nearby interchange of the city’s expressway system meant the campus was easy to get to, the neighborhood had seen better days.

“This part of the city was pretty dilapidated at the time,” said Warren Chapman, vice chancellor for external affairs, UIC. Traditional manufacturing and stockyard jobs relocated to cheaper locales. Hospitals were struggling, and long-time residents moved to the suburbs.“Putting the university here really stabilized this part of Chicago.”

Phase one proved a massive push of building with 16 core structures completed in just 18 months. Internationally renowned architect Walter Netsch of Skidmore Owings and Merrill grouped the structures by function with important student facilities in the center and administrative buildings placed in concentric circles around them. A series of second-floor walkways tied the campus together. Eighty-five hundred students enrolled that year and, by 1971, that number ballooned to 17,500.

Phase Two included eight classroom buildings built extensively from concrete to keep costs low. Enrollment demand continued to grow, driving Phase Three, the biggest building crunch of all. UIC constructed or renovated some 100 buildings from 1980 to 2005, including 30 buildings acquired with a merger with the University of Illinois’s medical campus. This move brought more of Chicago’s needier neighborhoods within the safe arms of the university.

In 2000 UIC started on Phase Four, which turned the campus from a commuter school to a thriving, 24-hour living-and-learning environment. Funding — a total of $850M — was generated from a creative mix of revenue bonds, loans, and land sales to residential developers, and proceeds from a city Tax Increment Financing district. Developers funded all of the private 930 residential housing units.

Phase four, also known as the South Campus expansion, features academic, recreational and green spaces.“About 37 percent of the campus is devoted to green space,” quoted Liz Zweigle Yee, associate director of marketing communications, UIC. The South Campus also includes mixed-use spaces that combine housing, transportation, dining, entertainment, retail, and office space. Catering to the 20- to 40-year-old crowd, the retail offerings include coffee and food, salons and bookstores, wineries and sports bars. Privately owned single-family homes and condos attract faculty, staff, and other community members.

Residence halls are strictly owned, controlled, and managed by the school. More than 700 students presently live in these new residences, with another 750 expected next fall. The school’s private police department patrols the area, ensuring the safety of students and other residents.

The school took care to preserve as much of the original flavor of the neighborhood as possible. Twenty-one different buildings and storefront façades were remodeled and reused to keep that old Chicago feeling. Still, a new energy abounds, with 200 new permanent jobs created and a projected $1B in new economic activity generated.

Green initiates were not forgotten, either. Along with meeting LEED standards on their new renovations and constructions, the school proudly boasts Grant Hall. Using a grant of almost $154,000 from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the facility will feature a cost-efficient, environmentally friendly geothermal system. A 100-ft. well field will heat and cool this building, as well as eventually servicing two surrounding halls.

Basically a city within a city, Today UIC is comprised of more than 24,000 students and 15 colleges, including the nation’s largest medical school. The school’s 50-year plan was recently recognized with the Prix d’Excellence award from the International Real Estate Federation. This award is bestowed on projects that excel in architecture, technical originality, and significant contributions to the surrounding community.

But don’t expect UIC to sit back now. “The next 50 years will contain thoughtful reflection of where we are and what we need,” said Chapman. “Our footprint is as big as it’s going to get, so we will look at our buildings and parking lots and see how they can be put to their best use.” The next project includes a convocation center developed and controlled by the university but used for conferences and concerts.

Again proving that a school and city can work together.