Clancy in response to the editorial board’s “CWRU’s new alumni center not best use of space”

To the editor,

As the former Executive Director of Case Western Reserve University’s alumni office and graduate of the university’s law school, I thank you for this opportunity to share some of the history surrounding the creation of the existing Alumni House and the decision to build a new Alumni Hall.

The Alumni House itself opened in 2007 after decades of requests from Case Western Reserve University graduates that the university emulate its many peer institutions by offering such a space. Ultimately the Alumni Association Board established a task force to advance the initiative, and among the group’s top recommendations was inclusion of a large room to accommodate large functions. From there fundraising began.

After alumni and staff reviewed a range of possibilities around campus, we ultimately settled on a 1911 home on Juniper that once served as the university’s architecture studio in the 1950s. The home did not have the large function space that alumni had identified as a priority, but offered an opportunity to offer some appealing space right away. From the start, the location designated for the project’s second phase was the house next door, a once-striking structure that had been vacant for many years before campus police moved there temporarily in 2011.

In the meantime, we erected a tent on the patio behind the House to accommodate alumni functions too large for indoors. While the tent did not allow for us to accommodate larger groups during the winter, it still drew great interest from both alumni and student groups the rest of the year. Ultimately faculty groups and university departments also sought out the tent for gatherings. Nevertheless we had to turn down requests that required we accommodate more than 100 guests. The priority of a dedicated alumni space that could serve large events continued, as did our work to secure donations for the effort.

Two years ago Frank and Jocelyne Linsalata expanded upon their previous generosity to the university – support for scholarships and for the Tinkham Veale University Center – with a challenge grant for the project. If other supporters committed $1 million, the Linsalatas would donate $4 million. After alumni and others met the challenge, the university’s trustees approved the project in June.

If the former police site could have been renovated to house an event space of the necessary size, we gladly would have sought to preserve it. Unfortunately it cannot, and too little space exists behind the Alumni House to accommodate the event space without taking down that adjacent building. Once the Alumni Hall is complete, the entire complex will be known as the Linsalata Alumni Center.

As a one-time student, I can understand many of the perspectives articulated in The Observer editorial, even if I do not entirely agree with them. One sentence, however, resonated particularly strongly as true: “We are connected and should attempt to accommodate one another.” Case Western Reserve University has more than 110,000 alumni, many of whom give generously to the university each year specifically to support scholarships, professorships and capital projects that benefit the roughly 10,000 students here at any one time.

The idea that adding an 8,900 square-foot building to accommodate large events—like the house, for alumni and others—represents an inequitable infringement on student space is difficult to comprehend. It is particularly puzzling given last month’s opening of a 122,643 square-foot residence hall; last October’s opening of the 24,000 square foot Wyant Athletic and Wellness Center (and, with it, the announcement of fundraising for a 15,000 square-foot addition to the Wyant Center); and, of course, the August, 2014 opening of the 89,000 square-foot Tinkham Veale University Center.

The Linsalata Alumni Center represents the culmination of decades of thought and planning. It will be truly a place on our campus for alumni to call home. It will be a place for them to mark special occasions in their lives. Someday our current students may want to return and have a space on campus to gather, reminisce and celebrate. It is my hope that when they do, they will appreciate the decisions alumni before them made.

Dan Clancy

Alumnus, School of Law, Class of 1962