U builds $2 million wall on McNamara alumni center plaza

Stephanie Kudrle

The University will add to the plaza surrounding the McNamara alumni center in October, when workers finish construction on a $2 million wall to honor alumni.

Construction of the metal and granite wall began last month.

Names of alumni will be inscribed on one side of the wall, which will run along Oak Street.

The building materials will match those of the alumni center. Private donations from alumni will fund the project.

But some students say alumni could put their time and efforts into more academic-related projects, such as raising money for scholarships.

The memorial will be dedicated during homecoming in October, said Jim Heinz, general manager of the alumni center.

The 260-foot wall was part of the original design for the alumni center, he said. The center is being constructed in three phases: the building, the plaza and landscaping, and the memorial wall.

The wall will rise from the ground at a tilted angle, growing higher as it progresses, according to the plans.

“This is going to be a fascinating project,” Heinz said. “The project is going to give people another reason to come to the plaza area, enjoy the wall and look at names of alumni that have been recognized.”

About 1,000 names will fit on the wall, Heinz said, but only 100 will be introduced in October.

Margaret Carlson, director of the Alumni Association, said names on the wall will be graduates or former students who have received the “University of Minnesota Outstanding Achievement Award.”

People who receive the award have an unusual distinction in their field, profession or in public service. Approximately 1,038 people have received the award, which is the top distinction given to alumni, Carlson said.

The University Board of Regents unanimously approved the construction of the wall in December 2003. The proposal estimated the project would cost about $2 million, which will be funded by private donations, according to notes from the regents meeting.

Carlson said a large portion of the donation was a gift from one alumnus who was solicited by the University Foundation for the memorial wall.

University Senate member Kris Houlton said she wondered whether the money should have gone to students. The University emphasizes beautification rather than academics, she said.

“If fund-raising efforts could have been directed towards fund-raisers for the academic mission, they should have been,” she said.

Britt Johnson, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, said she was upset that she hadn’t heard anything about the project.

Although she knows funds are designated for specific projects, Johnson said she would like the University and alumni to spend more time helping students.

“I’m amazed how much effort and money goes into stuff like this and not scholarships,” she said.

But University architecture professor Jim Litsheim said the wall – which he considers to be an art piece – will complement the alumni center building and thinks the community will like it.

“We’ve only had positive comments about it,” he said. “It will be an attraction to give people another reason to come to the plaza as a destination.”