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Move not welcomed by Club

Aaron Steiner | Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Notre Dame unveiled plans last week for a $69.4 million engineering building to be built on land occupied by the University Club, so for manager Debbie Colley – along with more than 40 employees, members and a board of directors – the news means preparing to say goodbye.

University officials notified the privately owned Club and its board of directors in a Jan. 9 letter they would need to vacate the building by Aug. 31 to make room for the new Stinson-Remick Engineering Hall.

The demolition will be a loss to Notre Dame and the surrounding community, said Paul Conway, a retired finance professor and the Club’s current president.

“We consider that building to be a part of Notre Dame,” he said, calling the Club a perfect example of Notre Dame culture.

While Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves stressed the necessity of the building plans, he acknowledged the difficulty of asking the University Club to relocate.

“It’s not easy to change anything that people like,” he told The Observer Monday.

Much consideration went into the new building’s location, said Affleck-Graves, who tied the decision to Notre Dame’s mission. Fulfilling an academic need is more important than preserving a social space, which can be relocated, he said.

Affleck-Graves said officials worked extensively with faculty and the dean of the Engineering School to find alternative sites for the new building, but none were appropriate.

University officials have proposed the Club relocate to Greenfield’s International Café inside the Hesburgh Center. Notre Dame leases the current building to the Club, which operates independently of the University.

But Colley said the proposal to move to Greenfield’s is not feasible, given the size of the cafe and the different purposes each establishment serves.

“We were hoping for the Club to continue at another location, if that was a workable deal with the University, but the one that they’ve offered us isn’t very workable,” she said. “We feel that they want to get rid of us.”

Conway said the suggested proposal had too many financial stumbling blocks for the Club to handle.

“We would go out of business in a short time [if we accepted],” he said.

Affleck-Graves said the University has discussed several options with the Club, in addition to the proposal to move to Greenfield’s. He did not disclose the other options, but said the Club must first make a decision how to proceed.

The board of directors is currently working on a counter proposal to present to University officials, “to see if there is any possibility in [the University] changing their terms,” Colley said.

“We can’t imagine that the University of Notre Dame wouldn’t have a University Club,” she said.

Club employees – as well as employees of Greenfield’s – did not find out about the relocation proposal until it was printed in the South Bend Tribune, Colley said.

“They kind of got a slap in the face, as well as us,” said Vicki Lodyga, office manager at the Club for 14 years and one of the Club’s 33 full-time employees.

Many of the Club employees – some who have worked there for more than two decades – are disappointed, she said. She said this wasn’t an expected course for the building’s future.

In 2004, University President Emeritus Father Edward Malloy appointed a committee to determine the future of the Club, according to documents on the Club’s Web site. Affleck-Graves was named chair of the committee. The Club’s members were notified of the University’s intent to move the Club at that time.

In response, the Club formed the Committee for the Future of the University Club. The group produced a report stating the Club should remain “as it is, where it is,” Conway said.

This committee gathered more than 400 signatures to petition against the relocation of the Club, including the signature of University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh.

In 2006, the Club was informed that they would need to vacate by June 2008. The board and Club employees were surprised when they received the Jan. 9 letter that moved the demolition date up to Aug. 2007, Colley said.

Conway said he is optimistic the Club will continue, even while a decision on new location is “still up in the air.”

The Club was founded in 1958. The current building was donated by former Indiana governor Robert Gore and designed by Robert Schultz, a former architect with the School of Architecture. It serves faculty, staff, alumni and community members who pay a membership fee to gain access to the Club.