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Evanston alumni of Northwestern University received an email recently urging them to support the university’s controversial plans to build a state-of-the-art medical research facility on the site of the historic Prentice Women’s Hospital on its Chicago campus.

The email, from Daniel S. Jones, president-elect of the Northwestern Alumni Association, contends that Northwestern’s expansion plan for the Feinberg School of Medicine will enable the university “to find tomorrow’s cures and benefit people worldwide.”

He added that the research center planned for the Prentice Hospital site would have an annual net economic impact of $39 miliion for Chicago, would create 2,500 new construction jobs, and would add more than 2,000 new professional and high-skilled jobs.

Preservationists, however, are advocating that the city declare the building an historic landmark, which would prevent its demolition.

Built 37 years ago, Prentice was designed by the late Bertrand Goldberg, who also designed Chicago’s  iconic Marina City.

Rather than demolishing the building, preservations have recommended that it be used for a different purpose, such as a dormitory or office building, and that the university build its research center on other nearby parcels.

The Chicago Tribune has argued both sides of the issue. Jones directed his fellow alumni to check out the paper’s August 12 editorial, titled “Let Northwestern Build,” which maintained that the university should be allowed to make its own decision on how it wishes to develop its own property.

“Education and research are what the university is all about,” the paper said. “It should be able to use its property in the service of that mission.”

The Tribune’s noted architectural critic, Blair Kamin, expressed a contrary view.

“Old Prentice easily meets the standards for city landmark status—most notably that it was designed by a significant architect and that it is architecturally unique and innovative,” he wrote.

He added that it was long past time for the city “to stop dithering and start giving this striking building the protection it needs.”

The alumni association official noted that the floors of the Prentice building “cannot support today’s research equipment, and the vibration in old Prentice would not allow researchers to use advanced microscopes and other sensitive equipment.”

He added: “The ability of researchers to have physical proximity to their colleagues is essential to their collaboration and productivity.”

More information about Northwestern’s plans can be found on its website.

 Photo: The old Prentice Women’s Hospital whose fate is in dispute.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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