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Drake to build University Center

Photo courtesy of Jarad Bernstein

Drake’s $225 million fundraising campaign “The Ones” includes plans to renovate and add to the Olmsted Center to attract more students and incorporate the fine arts into daily life. 

This “University Center” would include an expanded bookstore, a food venue, an arts hall, a studio theater and a gallery, Drake President Marty Martin said in an interview following the campaign launch. Vice President of University Advancement John Smith said these plans are still reliant on the response from donors. 

Martin also said the campaign addresses an anticipated decline in undergraduate students starting in 2026. 

“A dynamic University Center will enable Drake to stand out in the regional and national market to recruit and retain students,” a promotional handout about the center provided by the Office of Advancement says. 

John Pomeroy, a professor of theatre arts at Drake, said plans for the center include essentially two buildings: a student center side and a fine arts side that are joined by a connector building.

“The idea would be that the upper floor or floors would be more of the meeting space, convention type of spaces that would be traditionally housed in a university center like this,” Pomeroy said. “The first floor is intended to be very open, very free-flowing as far as the physical movement of people and small-group society as they utilize a space like this.”

The fine arts side will also accommodate touring productions and include classroom, rehearsal and development spaces, according to Pomeroy. Pomeroy is one of the faculty “champions” who has been involved with the creation of a campaign initiative before launch.

“And so the intent I believe, as far as those rehearsal spaces would be, would be to create spaces that would allow advancement, allow initiative, allow a performing arts maker space kind of venue, as opposed to a strictly dedicated, ‘This space is designed and constructed exclusively for music ensembles,’ ” Pomeroy said. 

After Drake made a social media post on Instagram about the University Center on Nov. 22, some comments on the post expressed disapproval, saying that fixing up the Fine Arts Center should be a higher priority. Some comments also expressed concern about potential parking issues that the center could cause, as the promotional design would cover the Olmsted parking lot. 

According to Pomeroy, it would be “extraordinarily difficult” to renovate the Fine Arts Center at this time because of the programs that take place there. He said that Drake is maintaining the Fine Arts Center so it will last until a new performing arts facility opens. Pomeroy also said that it is difficult to raise funds for deferred maintenance. 

“I think the hope is that [the Fine Arts Center renovation is able to key off immediately after the opening of the new performing arts venue,” Pomeroy said. 

Pomeroy said that the performing arts are evolving, listing Drake’s recent production of Devising for the Future as an example. The Times-Delphic previously reported on the show, a collaborative piece created by the student cast. 

“Where the tradition is, here’s a work written by William Shakespeare, and we’re going to produce it in a very traditional manner, in a very historically accurate manner and that type of thing,” Pomeroy said. “We’re still doing that kind of work, but we’re also including a variety of other ideas. And a new venue that has developments that are supportive of that would be very, very beneficial to the university.”

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