More than two weeks ago, Loyola’s decision to close part of North Kenmore Avenue for construction upset many students who had to re-route their walks to class. The university hopes that it will stay closed to traffic forever, according to a university administrator.
Loyola’s capital development department is currently working to obtain permission from the city of Chicago to effectively own the entire section of Kenmore between West Sheridan Road and West Rosemont Avenue. While Loyola does not want to assume responsibility for the underground infrastructure, such as sewer or electrical lines, the school hopes to obtain the right to the property and tear out the road in order to create a more campus-like feel, said Jennifer Clark, assistant vice president of campus and community planning.
“We’re looking to grow the size of campus,” Clark said. “If you come back 10 years from now, [that] area will look like [the northern part of campus] in terms of green space and benches and trees and bike paths.”
The same section of Kenmore was originally closed on Feb. 6 for the construction of San Francisco and De Nobili halls and the Center for Sustainable Urban Living. The closing was deemed necessary to house the construction equipment needed for the $100 million, 18-month project. Now, the street closing will function as a test for future plans.
“This is a great opportunity because closing a street in the city is a huge project. It’s difficult to do,” she said. “Closing it permanently is nearly impossible just because you don’t really know what the impact is going to be until it happens, so there’s a lot of hesitation for allowing it to happen.”
Thus far, Clark said she was surprised how few complaints she’s received. She said that during recent community meetings with the public about the closing, the primary concern was parking, but that she hasn’t received a complaint on the subject. Additional concerns have come from students and residents who don’t like taking alleys or walking out of their way to get to campus.
Loyola owns all but one of the buildings on the block, an apartment building located on the northwest corner of Rosemont and Kenmore avenues. Clark said that they are currently working towards a purchase agreement with the owner, a final step that would open the path for city authorization.
Clark said that the university will apply to get the land for free because of its status as a nonprofit organization. She expects, however, that the university will end up having to pay for it, but the estimated cost is unclear.
As an urban school, Loyola faces certain space limitations. Clark said expansion on Kenmore is one of the only options for growing the campus while preserving an open, connected feeling. She even said that Loyola might eventually do the same on Winthrop between Sheridan and Rosemont, but is three properties away from total occupation of the block. She added that Winthrop’s layout plays a role in its potential for green space.
“It’s also harder because Winthrop leads places,” she said. “Kenmore doesn’t lead to anywhere but campus and Sheridan, which you can access on other streets.”
The university has considered a long-term but potentially drastic idea for West Sheridan Road. The plan would consolidate the stretch of Sheridan that bisects campus to two lanes of traffic with a median, down from four. Clark said that Loyola is working with a transportation engineering company to do an intensive analysis on traffic flow from the stretch of road.
“It’s kind of a huge study because it affects [so many people], and so many people use Lake Shore Drive. So it’s more about Lake Shore Drive than anything else. They have to … count where the cars are going – how many are exiting at Hollywood, and then how many cars end up at Evanston – that will tell you how many bleed off west.”
Clark said according to past studies, North Broadway – a four-lane street – can hold a lot of the commuters who use Sheridan to travel north and that the businesses located there could actually benefit from the re-route.
“Diverting traffic from Sheridan and onto Broadway will be better all-around because Sheridan is all residential, whereas Broadway is commercial,” she said. “You’ve got banks and drive-thrus … and dry cleaners and Walgreens and CVS and all that kind of stuff. And more traffic benefits a commercial street while more traffic hurts a residential street.”
By limiting the stretch of road, the university hopes to enhance student safety and facilitate campus expansion. Clark said that less traffic will mean less danger for pedestrians trying to cross sidewalks and that “it will feel more like a cohesive campus … without an expressway running through the middle.”
She said that neighbors in Edgewater have been very supportive of Loyola’s southward expansion, as it helps ensure that the area is safer.
Loyola students, however, are split on the idea.
“I think they should kind of isolate the campus, in a way,” said sophomore Allison Grzesik, a secondary education and math double major. “It’s good to have all of the dorms nearby [each other]. If they’re all close, it would feel like more of a community and it would be easier to bond. It would also make students feel more comfortable.”
Some Loyolans view it as just another construction project whose benefits won’t be reaped by current students.
“I would be excited about it if got to enjoy it. It’s a great thing for future classes, but we’re paying for it, and we’ll be gone by the time we’d get to enjoy it,” said sophomore Eric Grisham, a psychology major.
Clark said she understands the disappointment current students have with construction, but believes the “Loyola experience” doesn’t just include their time enrolled at the university.
“To some extent, your Loyola experience is a lifetime one,” she said. “It just starts while you’re here on campus, then you become an alum. You’ll be able to come to these things’ grand opening if you’re still in Chicago.”
Check out page 6 for an opinion piece on campus construction and the Loyola experience.