Stretching out

Today the Jerome J. Lohr Building or the SDSU Foundation building, the Tompkins Alumni Center, and the Alvilda Myre Sorenson Center are located on a block-long stretch of Medary Avenue. However, a project is in the works that will not only expand the Foundation Building, but create a new Alumni Center and president’s house referred to as the “University House.”

According to Steve Erpenbach, president of the SDSU Foundation, the expansion plans for the Foundation have been in progress since the Jerome J. Lohr Foundation Building was originally built in 2004. It was only in the last year that the foundation building plans included a new alumni center. The entire project is privately funded, and Erpenbach estimated that the cost would be in the $7 to $8 million-dollar range. 

“Having the Alumni Association and the Foundation under the same roof would fit, and it seems like a good time to have a nice new home for the Alumni Association,” said Erpenbach, who said that while it is still early in the planning process, they hope to begin construction by summer 2015. Before the expansion can take place, the university will have to find places to relocate the departments occupying buildings such as the American Indian Education and Cultural Center and the Academic Evaluation and Assessment building. 

The two buildings that will be torn down in order to create space for the project are the Tompkins Alumni Center and the Alvilda Myre Sorenson Center, which houses UPD. There are no immediate plans to demolish Scobey Hall according to Erpenbach. 

The plans for the stretch of Medary Avenue include putting an addition on the Foundation building, which will connect to a new alumni center. Erpenbach said that the current Tompkins Alumni Center is no longer large enough to fit the Alumni Association.

“The current alumni center was built in the early 70’s so the number of alums has increased … it’s really not big enough for what the alumni association needs” said Erpenbach. The new alumni center and the addition of the new president’s house will be a part of what will be called the Alumni Green. Planners hope this will be an area of campus for alumni to gather when they return to visit.

“Woodbine Cottage will remain. There have been some nice ideas about it being used for receptions and events, as well as a guest house for visiting dignitaries to stay while they are on campus,” said Erpenbach. The new University House will be built on the lot where the Alvilda Myre Sorenson Center currently stands. The university’s plan is to make space for UPD by the new stadium. 

One goal of the project is to connect the Foundation Building and the Alumni Association so the two boards can work together. 

“Connecting The Foundation and the Alumni Association is good because they are both in the same business. It’s a joint effort so this would give the association more profile and more space to work with on joint projects which I see as useful,” said Keith Jensen, former Director of the Alumni Association. Jensen held the director position during the time that the current Tompkins Alumni Center was built, in 1976. According to Jensen, it was always evident that some type of expansion would be necessary in the future and these plans fulfill the needs of the Alumni Association.

One issue the project creates is that donations were made by the Tompkins and Sorenson families in order to build the two buildings that will be demolished due to the construction and expansion. “I just feel badly if they are going to dispose of the alumni building. It was three of my uncles who gave a large sum of the money,” said Faye Tompkins Josephsen. She also mentioned that she was not originally contacted about the plans to tear down the building bearing the Tompkins name. After reading a story in the newspaper, Josephsen contacted the university to express her concerns. “[The university] said they would leave the Tompkins name, it will be in the building, but it will not be nearly as accessible to people driving through Brookings now,” Josephsen said. One of the monuments in the plan to be maintained is the clock tower that stands next to the Tompkins Alumni Center, which will be turned into a plaza. 

“It is very important to us that people not forget the contributions those families made to both of those buildings,” said Erpenbach. 

The name is to be represented inside the new alumni center, through memorabilia and in the connection to the Alumni Green, representing the important role the family played with the Alumni Association for a large amount of time. The Sorenson name will also remain attached to the university as a reminder of the family’s contribution.

With the plans for the entire project in beginning stages, there are decisions to be worked out according to Erpenbach. The Foundation will take the next step in the project by interviewing architectural firms in the next month and await permission from the Legislature to demolish the buildings. 

“[The project will do] two things, it will really help the image of the university to have a couple new modern buildings and also having a location for events, mainly alumni events,” Erpenbach said.