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State

African-American program gets new building at UI

Clarence Odom, capital construction senior project manager with Facilities and Services, talks March 18 about the uses of different spaces at the new Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana.
Clarence Odom, capital construction senior project manager with Facilities and Services, talks March 18 about the uses of different spaces at the new Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana.

URBANA – Fifty years after the University of Illinois opened an African-American cultural program, the group is moving into a new $5.9 million building.

Construction of the 8,000-square-foot, glass-and-brick structure for the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center is nearly complete, The News-Gazette reported . The cultural center was founded in 1969 as a home for black students, but is open to all students.

A “soft opening” is planned this spring, while a grand re-opening event will be held in the fall to commemorate the center’s 50th anniversary, said Nathan Stephens, the center’s director.

“It’s almost like being a kid on Christmas who has a parent who says, ‘You can’t go down until daylight,’ ” Stephens said. “I’m just ready to move in and experience it and appreciate it.”

The center has operated out of multiple locations. Its previous building was closed in 2014 for safety reasons and demolished in 2017. The center has since operated out of temporary space in a campus recreation building.

Stephens said its new location will be more convenient for students. The facility’s first floor includes a lounge, a large multipurpose room and activity spaces. The second floor contains offices, study areas and a computer lab.

The building includes a wall of glass that’s meant to be inviting to the public and reflect the center’s mission of inclusion, said principal architect Dina Griffin of Interactive Design Architects in Chicago.

“We knew we would get a lot of foot traffic going by the building,” she said. “We wanted people to see what was going on inside.”

The project originally was scheduled to be completed by January, but the winter weather caused delays, said senior project manager Clarence Odom of UI Facilities and Services.

The new center was funded by donations, university institutional funds and student fees, Odom said.

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