WILKES-BARRE — Fresh off a $33 million science center construction project on its campus, Wilkes University announced plans Wednesday for a central location for its school of business.
But it will spend less than one-tenth what it did for its last building project.
The university announced it would spend $3 million to renovate the University Center on Main, at 169 S. Main St., transforming it into the new home of the Jay S. Sidhu School of Business and Leadership. The recreation center and Gambini’s Cafe will remain in the building. The school of business will use 35,000 square feet of the 82,000-square-foot building.
In addition, Wilkes University has purchased the former Bartikowsky Jewelers building at 141 S. Main St. for $1.2 million from the Bartikowsky family with the goal of renovating the 25,000-square-foot space to accommodate administrative offices and a student services center, which includes the registrar and financial aid offices, human resources and accounting offices.
Other uses for the building are still being discussed.
Between the new School of Business building and the former jewelry store building, the school plans on creating the South Main Street Gateway, a new entrance way to the heart of the Wilkes campus from South Main Street that would stretch through Franklin Street onto the campus greenway, the Fenner Quadrangle. This project is expected to be completed during the 2014-15 academic year.
Wilkes President Patrick F. Leahy said the idea of having the school of business students and faculty under one roof just made sense. And using an existing campus building, which could be renovated at a minimal cost compared to new construction, is something those very same students and faculty would say makes good business sense.
Jeffrey Alves, the dean of the Jay S. Sidhu School of Business and Leadership, said having a home for the school, which consists of six majors, seven minors, the MBA program and an accelerated bachelor’s in business administration program, will pay dividends in the long term. He said the interaction between students and faculty that the close proximity will foster is an important part of the college environment that has been lacking.
While he doesn’t think that not having a building specifically dedicated for the school of business has impacted student recruitment, he believes having one will help increase enrollment, which is already going up about 20 percent each year over the past three years.
Students said that shuttling between several campus buildings isn’t idea, but it’s something they’ve been accustomed to. They said they couldn’t wait to eliminate that part of their Wilkes experience.
Nicole Clemson, a MBA student from Dallas, said she’s so excited for the changes to this part of the campus and believes fellow students, the vast majority of whom are on spring break this week, will be overjoyed to hear the news.
Alves, who has been at the university for 17 years, said he will be sending out notices of the announcement to all current business students and to those high school students who have been accepted into the program and slated to start this fall. The building renovations will commence in April and are slated to be complete by August.
The Northeastern Eye Institute, now housed in the former Bartikowsky Jewelry building, will remain for the next several months but eventually will relocate. Its 80-car parking lot will be landscaped and used by the university.
Both buildings will also receive exterior work, designed to match the gray stone facades of many of the school’s signature structures.
Leahy said he believes the work that King’s College, with its campus north of Public Square, and Wilkes, with its campus south of the square, is helping to make the downtown more inviting and active. He said he envisions any future expansion by Wilkes would be in a northward direction toward Public Square.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said he’s always proud and encouraged to be part of announcements at the city’s two downtown colleges that show the commitment they have to the city.
Catherine Hughes, a MBA student from Belfast, Northern Ireland, said she’s fallen in love with the city and the university, and that the collaboration between the two has been something she’s appreciated witnessing.
The school has been updating facilities over the past few years.
In the fall, the school formally dedicated and opened its $35 million Lawrence and Sally Cohen Science Center.
Other buildings that have seen renovation projects in past three years include Bedford Hall, Fortinsky Hall and the Munson Field House. By the end of this month, the university’s school of nursing will be consolidated into the Stark Learning Center. Like the school of business, the nursing school had been using classrooms and labs in multiple campus buildings.