Temporary no more.
By 2018, after nearly five decades of using temporary campus facilities, the U. of I.'s Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center will finally have a permanent building of its own.
The $4.9 million project, recently announced by Interim Chancellor Barbara J. Wilson, will be funded with a mix of donations, student fees and institutional funds.
"We're fully committed now and we're moving forward," said Gigi Secuban, the associate vice chancellor for student affairs and the director of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, whose office oversees the campus' seven cultural and resource centers.
She said the building's planning is in its early stages and no drawings or blueprints are yet available. But the capital campaign to fund the project has started, and donations already have been accepted.
Wilson said she hopes the new center will be a resource utilized by everyone on campus.
“The cultural centers have played an important role for students at Illinois for more than 45 years," Wilson said. "BNAACC is a resource for all students, and we are committed to ensuring that the facility meets their needs today and into the future.”
Secuban said the Nesbitt Center offers several programs for African-American students and serves as an important academic and social connector to the rest of campus. It is named after Bruce D. Nesbitt, who led the U. of I.'s Afro-American Cultural Program for 22 years.
She said the administration's commitment to the project has been paramount.
"It's been encouraging to see the campus support," she said, "and the administration has been very responsive."
Secuban said students already have been consulted about what features they'd like to see in the new building, and they've provided plenty of ideas. She said officials had toured centers on other Big Ten campuses for design ideas.
Among the proposed features so far are added space for programming, a library and a multipurpose area. Another idea proposes space for WBML, the student-run radio station.
"We plan to create a very warm and modern space for our students that will be well utilized," she said.
The center moved across campus to its current location at 51 E. Gregory Drive, Champaign, about 18 months ago, after the building at 708 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, was determined to be uninhabitable. Prior to that, the center was located in a residential structure in the 900 block of Nevada Street, Urbana.
Secuban said the old building, a former residence, was never ideal for the center's purposes. In recent years, repairs of the building had become numerous, and patching and painting had become ongoing and time-consuming.
"We were having these continual problems in the old building and we had spent so much just repairing things," she said.
She credited students involved in the #BeingBlackatIllinois movement for making their voices heard concerning the conditions of the South Mathews building and the need for something more permanent.
That awareness led to an inspection and a tour of the building by the Office of the Provost. The inspection revealed a long list of problems, including asbestos.
Secuban said the issue of new quarters has been discussed since the move to the current building. At first, a cross-cultural center was proposed, but Nesbitt leaders and students successfully argued that students of each center needed their own space.
"The students have been actively involved in this process from the start," Secuban said. "They've provided a lot of helpful feedback and they will continue to be involved."
The biggest unresolved issue for now is where the new building will be located. Secuban said the project's steering committee is considering three possible locations, including the old Mathews Avenue site after the building is razed. She said they'd like the new center to be in close proximity to campus.
Mementos from the old building will be saved, she said, including a small mural created by students.