The new 11,600-square-foot welcome center, located at the northeast corner of College Avenue and Chase Street, was dedicated Dec. 7. Two buildings owned by Wheaton College were demolished to make way for the welcome center.
Wheaton College officials want visitors to feel at home when they come to the welcome center. As such, one of the first things they see when they walk into the building is a stone gas fireplace.
"We wanted to make it a peaceful, low-stress environment for prospective students," Wheaton College architect Bruce Koenigsberg said during a recent tour of the new building.
About 80 percent of prospective student visitors come from outside Illinois, according to college officials. The project is part of the college's $175 million capital campaign, "From the Heart, for the Kingdom." Other projects in the campaign include a new $63 million performing arts center and a $4 million center for vocation and career.
The materials used for the welcome center's construction reflect the historic buildings on campus, including the limestone characteristic of Blanchard Hall.
"We knew that Blanchard Hall was iconic," Koenigsberg said. "It's what every visitor has already seen on the website. We tied it to our flagship building."
The welcome center also houses the college's undergraduate admissions office as well as meeting rooms. The undergraduate admissions office was previously located in an out-of-the-way space on the campus.
"They were above the bookstore in a place that was hard to find and not very impressive," Koenigsberg said. "There was confusion, and it wasn't appropriately styled for what the message of the college wants to be."
By design, the welcome center features plenty of windows that look out on the campus.
"You can see the football stadium here, and you can see the Billy Graham Center from here, [which is] another major piece of our campus," Koenigsberg said. "You can actually see Blanchard Hall up here. And if you look out to the north, there's the Todd M. Beamer Student Center, which is the hub of all student activity. So you almost get 360 degrees of viewing the campus just by looking outside. You can capture the breadth of our campus pretty nicely just by looking out these wonderful windows here."
Visitors to the welcome center can also learn more about the campus through a 15,164-piece Lego replica on display in the building made by Wheaton College student Paul Vermeesch.
"It's very detailed and very attractive," Koenigsberg said. "It grabs your attention, and yet it communicates very effectively. He used satellite photos and ordered all the unique Lego pieces and put it together."
The welcome center was not just designed for prospective students and their families to use.
"It will also serve alumni, and it will serve any visitor on campus," Koenigsberg said. "If you are coming to campus for the first time for any reason, this is a great place to start. So we call it our front door to the campus."