By Chris Casey | University Communications
DENVER - In a spirited ceremony that cast an eye back on history, but mostly looked forward to how the University of Colorado Denver and its signature new "cornerstone" will further enhance the city and region, the new academic building started to become a reality this morning.
More than 150 university and city leaders gathered at the corner of Larimer Street and Speer Boulevard (former Lot R) for the groundbreaking of CU Denver's first building on the Auraria Campus owned and operated by the university.
The 146,000-square-foot, $60.5 million structure will be completed by August 2014. It will include space for student affairs, financial services, admission, registrar, classrooms and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Speakers included University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor Don Elliman, University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, Board of Regents Chairman Michael Carrigan, Student Government Association Vice President Natalia Gayou and Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock.
Scenes from academic building groundbreaking:
Gayou welcomed the dignitaries and expressed her excitement about the academic building's "one-stop-shop" services for students. "No more running all around campus to get registered for classes," she said. "We'll be able to get the help we need all in one place -- finally. And this is something especially important to me in my student government role: The building will help build CU Denver pride."
Elliman acknowledged that the building will make a statement, but mainly it is needed to accommodate a thriving university. "We have almost 15,000 students at the University of Colorado Denver today. The undergraduate population has grown by about 50 percent in the last decade to almost 10,000 students." He noted the building will feature much-needed state-of-the-art large classrooms.
It's fitting, the chancellor said, that ground is broken on the academic building during CU Denver's 40th anniversary year. "Most importantly, we believe it allows us to enhance the opportunity for student success, which, after all, is the primary mission of the University of Colorado Denver."
Benson, who has a long history in working with Auraria, said classroom space is at a premium on the campus. "As CU Denver approaches its 40th anniversary, I'm proud of the significant progress we've made and the key role we play as a premier urban university in Denver," he said. "We've come a long way since the days of the Tramway Building across Speer, which was known as UCLA -- the University of Colorado between Lawrence and Arapahoe."
Carrigan noted that this morning's groundbreaking took place near the spot on which Denver was founded more than 150 years ago. The state's constitution called for the formation of a University of Colorado, and CU Denver has evolved into a "shining gem" within the CU System, said Carrigan, a CU alumnus.
Carrigan has served on the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) Board of Directors, where he observed how the three Auraria institutions -- CU Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver and Community College of Denver -- have been rivals but also partners. "Ultimately, that competition made all the institutions better. Of course, I know which one I think is best," he said. "We really have become the cornerstone of Denver's economy and today we put another important brick on top of that cornerstone."
Hancock, a CU Denver alumnus, said that when he was running for mayor, he used his alma mater and the entire Auraria campus as a cornerstone in his economic platform. "This campus is an example of how, if we activated and brought the energy and intellectual capital and integrated it into the city, that becomes the greatest economic opportunity we have. So with this investment -- I wish it happened 18 years ago when I was on this campus -- I'm proud of what you're bringing to the students of CU Denver. This is going to be an awesome location."
A full contingent of university and city leaders donned hardhats and plunged gold-and-black shovels into a pile of dirt on what was previously a campus parking lot. During construction of the long-anticipated building, signs that celebrate CU Denver's 40-year downtown heritage will surround the site.
Barb Weiske, executive director of AHEC, said construction will begin this summer on a multi-level parking structure at 5th Street and Walnut Street. AHEC worked in concert with university officials on the building plans.
The new academic building is an important step to recognize how all three institutions share the Auraria Campus, but yet have their own identities in the neighborhood concept AHEC has developed. "This building is especially important because of how we connect with downtown Denver," Weiske said. "We're kind of closing that gap and really becoming a part of Denver, which I think is important to all three institutions here. The campus community, with the neighborhoods is so strong and so collaborative, it's really an exciting time to be a part of this."
Tami Door, chair of the AHEC board, said the new building will bring CU Denver's brand to life in the heart of the city, connect the urban core to Auraria and "foremost, it really starts sending a stronger message from an economic development standpoint that the campus is here. It really becomes a more integrative part of the city from a physical standpoint."
A special Spirit Thursday event was held after the groundbreaking in North Classroom to highlight the building for students. The new building is being financed by debt backed with the university's existing tuition and cash reserves.
Groundbreaking attendees included Regents Sue Sharkey and James Geddes and Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, a CU-Boulder alumnus.
Hancock pointed out Brooks in the crowd, proudly highlighting the university and its significance at every opportunity. CU Denver has "grown in prominence as an attraction, as an option for kids who live in Colorado and who are coming from around the country," Hancock said. "So let me just say to the entire CU System, congratulations. This is a great economic opportunity for the city of Denver, but it's also a great educational opportunity, a great cultural opportunity, for all of us who live in this great city and who care so much about this institution and about the life and vibrancy of this campus."
(Photo at top: CU Denver, city and AHEC leaders dig into earth at the corner of Speer Boulevard and Larimer Street for the groundbreaking of the new academic building.)