October 15, 2009

Fundraising stalled for Alumni Hall

Since 1891, Alumni Hall has been a centerpiece of the Knox campus, housing everything from the library to art studios to the Gizmo. Now the building stands empty after renovations came to a halt five years ago.

“We got a little ahead of ourselves,” said President Roger Taylor. “We need to get most of the money before we proceed.”

According to the Knox College website, renovating Alumni Hall began as an ambitious project to bring life back into a building that had not been in use since 1978 — but that the college desperately needs. With over 1350 students, Knox could use some extra space.

Calculating the Costs

Phase I of the renovation was completed in June of 2004 and included removing asbestos, refurbishing windows, and installing utilities in addition to a complete demolition of the interior. Taylor said that over $2 million was raised in government grants to finance this part of the project. Now, the source of funds has changed.

“The goal over the last couple of years has been to find donors who can give large gifts,” Taylor said. “Five million, two million — that’s the kind of figure we’re looking at.”

No one is clear how much finishing the restoration will cost, though Taylor estimates at least $10 million. An aggressive campaign has been undertaken to raise the funds.

“We have the most systematic, organized fundraising operation we’ve ever had. We have organizers out talking to alumni and […] telling them about Alumni Hall,” said Taylor.

The economy, however, has complicated fundraising efforts.

“One potential major donor is in a business that was adversely affected [in the downturn],” Taylor said. “It’s a difficult time.”

In order to address the problem, an Alumni Hall Task Force is being formed, which will consist of faculty, staff, a trustee and a few student representatives selected by the Student Senate. The task force will discuss additional fundraising options as well as what the newly renovated Alumni Hall will be used for.

Diverse purposes

In the past, Alumni Hall has housed a wide variety of venues, including an auditorium that was rediscovered after the initial interior demolition.

“The college needs [the auditorium],” Taylor said. “It would be used for lectures, convocations, admissions open houses[…]we can’t always use Harbach, especially when there’s a main-stage production going on. It would be beautiful and historical.”

In addition to the auditorium, Taylor said the renovated Alumni Hall would include a visitors’ center, as this was a condition for one of the government grants used during Phase I of the project. The visitors’ center would have information about the history of Knox and Galesburg, along with information about Knox’s abolitionist roots and its role in the Underground Railroad.

There has been discussion about moving admissions to Alumni Hall in order to free up space in CFA for academic use. The college also needs an art gallery, though whether to put it in Alumni Hall or use space in CFA is still up in the air.

Though the college has many needs, Taylor cautioned against trying to squeeze too much into Alumni Hall, emphasizing the need to leave space for the future.

“We don’t want to do lots of yakking until we have a wad of cash,” he said. “That raises expectations and sometimes leads to disappointments.”

Still, Taylor is confident that funding will be found and the project will see completion.

“When we gave tours for the seniors last June, some members of the Knox College Choir went up on the old stage and started singing the Knox Hymn,” he said. “It really showed how this still excites students. It’s students who can do that.”

Anna Meier

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