Monday January 9, 2006

Preserving History

The National Alumni Association has given $200,000 to help create a University of Dayton Heritage Center.

Thanks to a $200,000 gift from the University of Dayton's National Alumni Association, UD officials are transforming a historic, turn-of-the-century brick building into a heritage center that will showcase UD's rich history.

UD has hired KZF Design in Cincinnati to work with a campus committee on the $410,000 renovation, slated to be partially completed by Reunion Weekend in June with an opening in the fall. The building, which most recently housed the campus post office, sits in the middle of the historic part of campus adjacent St. Mary's and Chaminade halls. The heritage center will be a stopping point during campus tours for prospective students and their families and spark nostalgia and pride among alumni returning to their alma mater.

"For the last two years we've been looking at strategic ways we can help the University meet its mission as a Catholic leader in higher education and reconnect alumni to that mission," said Vicki Giambrone, president of the National Alumni Association. "This will be a place where we can tell the story about this great institution and its people. Those stories will come alive in this center. Alumni everywhere will be thrilled with this."

Constructed in 1903 as a men's lavatory with showers, the 1,047 square-foot, one-story building with its distinctive Colonial Revival-style cupola and numerous windows was dubbed the "Crystal Palace," according to Kerrie Cross, UD's archivist. Later, the building served as a carpentry/paint shop. From 1959-2004, it housed UD's post office.

Plans call for preserving and improving the historic exterior, modernizing the interior, opening up the ceiling and using the large windows to create bold displays that can be lit and viewed anytime of the day or night. The building's loading dock will be removed. An exterior area on the south side of the building will be used to accommodate special events.

"We're envisioning a 24-7 exhibit," Cross said. "We're saying that our past is so important to us as an institution that we want to highlight it and make it central to campus. It will be bold, but the space will be open and inviting."

The interior will contain both permanent and temporary displays, including approximately a dozen floor-to-ceiling banners chronicling epochs in UD's history and illustrating its mission as a Catholic, Marianist university. Historical artifacts such as the bedroom bureau the Rev. Leo Meyer, S.M., UD's founder, used as an altar to celebrate Mass; a 19th-century wooden and metal desk; and a 1907 aerial portrait of campus will be on permanent display. Web-based or multi-media interactive features, such as digital yearbooks, also are being considered to give the center a high-tech touch and allow for easy updates.

Committee members say the heritage center won't feel like a museum. "We gave the architect a number of adjectives to set the tone for the center. We want it to be powerful, fun, entertaining, cool, nostalgic and connected. It will show that UD's history is part of a continuum, that the past is connected to the future," said Dick Ferguson, executive director of the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community and an aficionado and storyteller of UD's history. "We owe it to ourselves as a university community to say that what we inherited is largely the product of many generations of good work before us."

UD's heritage is a spiritual one, and the building will reflect that through its use of lighting.

"This building is like a little jewel. We're opening up the ceiling, so that you get a sense of a vaulted feeling. Light will filter in through the cupola. At night, the internal lighting will turn the building into a lantern or beacon," said Jim Cheng, director of design for KZF Design. The company's projects include the new Cincinnati Wing of the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Rosenthal Center for the Contemporary Arts.

The National Alumni Association, which represents UD's 91,000 living alumni, annually awards approximately $40,000 in scholarships to children of alumni and provides seed money for such initiatives as the RISE (Redefining Investment Strategy Education) forum and the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop.

"The idea of a heritage center connected with alumni," Giambrone said. "When you walk on campus, you'll get an immediate sense of who we are."

Contact Cathy Ford, project manager and senior workplace consultant in UD's facilities planning office, at (937) 229-3769; Vicki Giambrone at (937) 641-3000; Kerrie Cross at (937) 229-4267; Dick Ferguson at (937) 229-5400; and Jim Cheng at (513) 621-6211.