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Thursday, March 1, 2018 12:08 am

Future unclear for campus buildings

Benedictine has plans to take care of its students

Benedictine campus buildings include the 1869 George M. Brinkerhoff home, which was restored and preserved through community volunteer efforts in the 1970s. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Photo BY David Blanchette
The Springfield campus of Benedictine University will be sold and all local classes will be taught at other community sites after the conclusion of the 2018 spring semester, according to an announcement made this week by university officials.  

The sale of the historic campus at 1500 N. Fifth Street will also mean the loss of several jobs, but some staff will be retained to take care of the buildings until the property is sold. Capital improvement needs at the aging campus were the main reason the decision to sell was made, according to Benedictine University President Michael Brophy.

“With that in mind, we had to ask ourselves how to best provide for our students who deserve to attend classes in accessible, comfortable, and equipped-for-teaching classrooms,” Brophy said. “That’s why we will continue to teach at community sites apart from the Springfield campus.”

Some of Benedictine’s 20 Springfield campus employees will continue to serve the university, while severance packages will be provided to the as yet undetermined number who will lose their jobs after graduation in May. The campus sale doesn’t affect adjunct faculty who will continue to work for Benedictine in a different location.  

“The university greatly appreciates the individual contributions of the Springfield faculty and staff and their dedication to our students’ education,” Brophy said.

The decision to sell the north end Springfield campus was made during February by Benedictine University leadership, the university’s board of trustees, and the board of Springfield College in Illinois. So far a buyer has not been identified, according to Benedictine University Springfield campus director Janet Kirby, but until a sale is made, the school is committed to its upkeep.  

“As long as Benedictine owns the campus, we are going to care for it, so some of the staff who take care of those buildings will continue to be here,” Kirby said. But it’s no secret why the university is letting go of the property. “Adding central heat and air to Dawson Hall, for instance, plus making it accessible, was not economically feasible,” she said.

Kirby was among the 25 of Benedictine’s 100 employees who survived following the announcement in 2014 that the university would end its undergraduate program for traditional students with primarily daytime classes and focus instead on non-traditional, or adult, students, who are served mainly with night classes. She said 148 students are now enrolled through the local campus, and those enrolling after June 1 will notice only one difference.       

“I’ve had calls from concerned students this week and I’ve assured them that their graduation targets, courses, dates of the curriculum and the instructors are all the same,” Kirby said. “It’s as if you were walking from one room in our building to another room in our building, it’s just now going to be in a different building.”

“Our programs are more and more driven by partnerships, so we will serve their people in their own structures,” Kirby said. “I have two graduate degrees from Benedctine, and neither one of those groups that I was in met on the Springfield campus, so I know that model works.”

Kirby said four new education groups, as the degree courses are known, have recently been launched and she anticipates three more will start by June 1, although one will be in Peoria and the other in Decatur. A Jacksonville partner campus may open this summer as well.

“We have talked to a partner in Jacksonville, the Lincoln Land campus, and we are already partnering with Lincoln Land’s Litchfield campus,” Kirby said. “We have a partnership with Memorial Health System, and because Passavant Hospital in Jacksonville is already part of Memorial’s system, there is some natural student population already there for us.”

Benedictine’s Springfield operation will continue to serve an area roughly bordered by Peoria, Danville, Decatur, Litchfield and Jacksonville. The school has site agreements with Lincoln Land Community College in Litchfield and Richland Community College in Decatur. The university’s main campus is in Lisle, Illinois, and they have another campus in Mesa, Arizona.

Benedictine staff will meet with the Springfield campus students during March, April and May to plan the transition to other existing area sites. After June 1, enrollment and administrative staff will be located at community sites to assist both prospective and enrolled students.  

Benedictine’s Springfield Campus offers bachelor’s degrees in Management, Psychology, Criminal Justice and Nursing; master’s degrees in Business Administration and Management and Organization Behavior; a master of education in Reading and Literacy; and a Ph.D. program in Organization Development. Those offerings will remain, Kirby said.

The campus’ historic buildings also remain, although what a prospective buyer will do with them remains to be seen. Jerry Jacobson of the local historic preservation group Save Old Springfield applauds Benedictine’s decision to keep staff on hand to maintain the buildings until the property is sold. But he has concerns about what happens after a sale is finalized.       

“Since several of the buildings have city historic status the buyer will be constrained from taking any drastic steps with those buildings without going through the required process,” Jacobson said. “But the demolition delay through the Springfield Historic Sites Commission is exactly that – it can delay the process of demolition, but it can’t ultimately stop it. So we do have concerns about that.”

Landmarks Illinois had placed the Benedictine campus’ Ursuline Academy building on their “Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties” list several years ago and toured the campus last fall to see how the university was preserving its buildings. Landmarks Illinois Springfield office director Frank Butterfield hopes to work with Benedictine to find the right buyer for the property.

“The sale is not necessarily a bad thing,” Butterfield said. “The question will be how it is marketed. We urge the university to find a buyer who will use all of the historic resources on campus.”

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