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Northwestern University eyes temporary uses for old Roycemore School building in Evanston

BY BOB SEIDENBERG March 15, 2012 1:30PM

Northwestern University may need to use its recently vacated Roycemore School site for some interim office or faculty use, postponing a decision what to put permanently on the site, an NU administrator told a special city-NU panel Wednesday night.

Roycemore vacated its home of 95 years in mid-December to move into a new building west of downtown after Northwestern, the Lincoln Street property’s owner, informed the school it had other plans for the space.

Members of the city-Northwestern University Committee have been pressing the university on plans for the site, at 640 Lincoln St., across from a residential neighborhood.

Dormitories — resident’s least favorite choice — fraternities, sororities and faculty or administrative offices are some of the allowable uses for the property under city zoning law.

Ron Nayler, associate vice president of facilities management at Northwestern, told committee members Wednesday night the university is still in the planning stages on what to do long-term with the property, but some “major academic initiatives” that have arisen recently may require using the Roycemore site to accommodate the relocation of faculty and staff.

He said the school may be needed on an interim basis for two or three years, pushing back a decision on the site’s permanent use.

He said that in trying to meet the needs of the academic and administrative demands, “everything is on the table,” comparing the situation to “a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle,” where someone “took some of the pieces and threw them away.”

He indicated that the university’s “land poor” status, in comparison to other universities similar in caliber, and constraints on development also impinge upon university decisions.

President’s remark

Meanwhile, committee member Tom Gemmell questioned Nayler about a recent statement attributed to Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro, saying residential housing for upperclass students is a possible focus for the Roycemore site.

Gemmell voiced concern that the committee was “misdirected” by Nayler when the administrator told the panel previously that demand isn’t high for upperclass-student housing on campus.

Explained Nayler, “Just because there is not a high demand doesn’t mean you can’t try to change that demand.”

Gemmell persisted, saying “if I have a question about a particular use, and the focus of the university is to create a demand for the location about which I am asking, then I think it’s something you should mention.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who chaired the meeting, pressed Nayler for the name of the administrator whom residents should contact to bring their concerns about use of the Roycemore site.

Unlike the university development on the east side of Sheridan Road, the site will have “direct impact” on existing residents, Fiske said, as well as future residents of a new development planned for the area.

Nayler said university officials are aware of neighbors’ concerns. Pressed by Fiske, he said Eugene Sunshine, Northwestern’s vice president for business and finance, would probably be the university’s point person on the matter.