High Rise Means Higher Profile for Windy City University

The new vertical campus of Chicago's Roosevelt University promises to give the Loop-based institution higher visibility on the Windy City higher education scene.

Chicago—The new vertical campus of Chicago’s Roosevelt University promises to give the Loop-based institution higher visibility on the Windy City higher education scene.

The Wabash Building of Roosevelt University began construction two years ago and is slated for completion in March. At 32 stories, it will be the second highest academic building in the nation. Admissions, student organization space, fitness center and student cafeteria will be housed on lower levels, and classrooms, state-of-the-art labs and faculty offices on middle levels. Floors 14 through 31 will be reserved for more than 630 beds of student housing.

“Students will be able to wake up, go to their fitness center, go to their cafeteria, go to their classes and never have to leave the building,” associate vice president of campus operations Steve Hoselton tells MHN.

Roosevelt University has an enrollment of 7,000 students, many attending full time. Approximately 935 students currently live in approved housing near the campus, much of it not owned by Roosevelt. “We will decrease our approved off-campus housing once the Wabash Building is open,” Hoselton says.

Situated on the southeast side of the Loop at 425 S. Wabash Ave., the Wabash Building features common areas lining the entire east side of each floor, giving students dramatic views of the lakefront, Millennium Park and Grant Park. Students will also enjoy eye-popping views of the cityscape from their rooms.

Many are private rooms configured in quads. Others are “quints,” in which five students will share four rooms. The goal was to make sure students and their parents had a variety of price points to choose from, Hoselton says.

Financing efforts benefited from good timing. “The nice thing about the timing of this building is that just before we started the project, Roosevelt got its first credit rating, meaning we could issue bonds,” Hoselton says. “This building is financed by proceeds from bonds issued by the Illinois Finance Authority.”

Numerous hurdles arose in completing the project. First, the economic downturn forced Roosevelt to exercise extreme care in choosing the subcontractors brought on board. “We had to make sure they would remain financially viable through the three years it would take to complete the building,” Hoselton says.

Another obstacle presented itself when building materials first were delivered to the construction site. “Copper is very expensive, and as soon as it came into the building, we had thieves who wanted to steal it,” he says.

“So we had to hire 24-hour guards to protect that copper.”

Other challenges included a tight construction site and staging area between the L track on Wabash Ave. and the historic Auditorium Building immediately to the south of the new building, as well as the nature of the soil on the construction site. “The soils in this part of town are not high quality, but instead Chicago Fire backfill” from the 1870s, Hoselton says. “That forced us to make sure the foundations went down much farther into the ground to anchor in bedrock.”

When the building was still in concept stage, one of the key questions for Roosevelt University was how it could justify situating this new and comparatively avant-garde building immediately adjacent to the venerable Auditorium Building. The Auditorium was a “statement building” that upon its completion in the 1890s signaled Chicago had arrived, Hoselton says.

“Our response was that the new Wabash Building would also make a statement, that Roosevelt University had arrived.”