Faculty, local politicians, architects, and contractors met on Ellis Avenue between 57th and 58th Street Wednesday for the groundbreaking of the Interdivisional Research Building.
"This is the ceremonial start to a project that's been going on now for months," said Barry Quinn, senior vice president for the Rise Group, the development managers on the IRB project.
The event, convened by Richard Saller, provost of the University, featured speeches by David Oxtoby, dean of the division of physical sciences and Dr. James Madara, dean of the biological sciences division.
"This is one of our most important projects," Saller said. "It marks the future of scientific research at the University."
The building, which combines both biological and physical sciences, was described as an "interface" that will enable scientists to incorporate both fields into their studies.
"Important things happen at boundaries between things," said Oxtoby, who believes that the interface between biological and physical sciences will enable scientists to reach new heights in their research.
Madara, who echoed many of Oxtoby's statements, also noted that while the IRB provided sorely needed new space, its most compelling component was the interface between biological and physical sciences.
In addition to leading the scientific frontier, Saller said that the IRB project engages more than 20 percent minority participation. "This isn't only about science, we're also very conscious of minority participation," Saller said.
To guests at the event, such as Aldermen Toni Preckwinkle of the Fourth Ward, increased minority participation in campus projects is an important step that the University must take. "I think the University in the past was not sufficiently attentive to these issues," Preckwinkle said. "Historically, I don't think the University paid much attention to creating opportunities for minority-owned businesses and female-owned businesses."
From the outset of its Campus Master Plan, the University has begun a new initiative to engage more minority and female involvement in construction. According to Sonya Malunda, assistant vice president and director of the Office of Community Affairs, this means that workers on each University job site will reflect the greater Hyde Park and mid-South Side community.
The University sought to achieve this goal when it first hired McCarthy Construction and Kenny Construction to lead the IRB project. Once architectural plans were finalized, however, the University re-bid the project and did not qualify McCarthy or Kenny Construction to participate. Since then, the University has hired a joint venture known as IRB Construction Partners to lead the project.
Composed of Power Construction, Broadway Consolidated Companies, and Louis Jones Enterprises, Inc., the joint venture is 20 percent minority owned.
"I am proud of the partnership that has come together for the actual construction of this building," said University president Don Michael Randel in his comments at the groundbreaking. "This building is about building our community."
While the University has not established any quotas for minority and female participation, it recently added a new business diversity position to the Office of Community Affairs.
"The University has no requirement to achieve diversity goals and they've been able to achieve 25 to 30 percent minority participation and five to 10 percent women participation," said Joseph Williams, president of the Target Group Inc., who has provided outreach to connect the Hyde Park, mid-South Side community to the University.
"No one else, not DePaul or Northwestern, or Loyola, has had a joint venture with minority ownership in a building of this magnitude," said Williams, who referred to the building as a monument.
Despite the University's efforts to diversify, the Rainbow/Push Coalition has protested at sites including the IRB. While there were no protests at the groundbreaking, two policeofficers were on site.