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December 2, 2014

UChicago, UHawaii may partner for library

As the deadline for submitting a proposal for the Barack Obama presidential library approaches, the University of Chicago is exploring a partnership with the University of Hawaii (UH).

Four universities, including UChicago and UH, were selected as finalists from a group of 13 proposed sites on September 15 by the Barack Obama Presidential Foundation and asked to submit a request for proposal (RFP) to bring the library to their campus. The RFP is due December 11, and a final decision will be made in early 2015.

UChicago is in talks with the University of Hawaii to give it a virtual connection to a main campus located on the South Side of Chicago, according to Julie Peterson, the University of Chicago’s director of communications.

“Hawaii is imagining a digital connection. So they could envision the main facility being on the south side of Chicago, but then having a digital link to Hawaii, where there would be a presidential center that could be active and bring visitors who are there to understand the history of the President’s childhood, and certainly his early life, as well as create school programs and all kinds of things,” Peterson said. “They have been eager to talk to us at every stage. And we’ve been eager to talk to them as well.”

The University declined to elaborate on how exactly this connection would work, with University spokesperson Jeremy Manier only saying that UChicago is exploring a collaboration with the University of Hawaii. Officials from the University of Hawaii could not be reached for comment.

UChicago also explored a partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), but those talks have not resulted in a concrete plan. “I think as we move forward, depending on where the library goes, we’re happy to collaborate. I think it’s just not been really identified where that would be,” Mary Case, co-chair of UIC’s bid, said. “I think probably more around the programming that emanates from the museum and connecting with the communities. But that’s really as far as the conversations have gone at this point.”

Peterson declined to comment on specifics but said, “We’re still in conversation with [UIC], and we have been at various stages along the way. I think what we all want is for it to be in Chicago.”

Case said that a joint bid was never seriously considered. “I don’t think either of us really saw advantage in that. We’re offering in some ways very different sites, and it’s really going to be up to the President and the First Family in the end where it goes,” she said.

UIC is proposing sites near its West Loop campus, while the University is committed to bringing the library to the mid-South Side. Although none of the sites have been publicly disclosed, community groups working with the University have said that the University will submit three sites: Washington Park near East 55th Street and King Drive, Jackson Park near the Hyde Park Academy, and the South Shore Cultural Center on East 71st Street and South Shore Drive. A University official declined to comment on specific sites but confirmed that the University would be proposing three sites.

Louise McCurry, the commissioner of the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC), said that people associated with the University’s efforts have reached out to her and asked for her advice. Sonya Malunda, the University’s senior associate vice president for community engagement, also recently contacted JPAC and asked to attend its regularly scheduled January meeting.

At the November JPAC meeting, McCurry said that East 63rd Street and South Stony Island Avenue was a site suggested by the University. She said in a later interview that the site would work well logistically.

JPAC’s vice president, Frances Vandervoort, warned that the council would be monitoring the potential environmental consequences of the library very closely. “We will do our best to ensure that we hold the University’s feet to the fire in terms of environmental support,” she said.

According to McCurry, JPAC will not make a decision on whether to support a possible Obama library in Jackson Park until they see more details of the plan. “The thing is, we don’t know yet where they’re going. We’ll look at the proposal carefully and see what’s there. At this point, having the Obama library anywhere close to us in Hyde Park would be wonderful.”

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