Coming to a Crossroads

Author: Alex Herrmann

Samantha Lessen

In late November, the university will break ground on the Campus Crossroads Project, the biggest construction project in the school’s history. In the process, three new buildings will be constructed around the outside of Notre Dame Stadium.

Since the Campus Crossroads Project was announced, it has been subject to heavy doses of both scrutiny and praise. Critics have attacked the motivations behind the Project as well as its design, and proponents suggest the space the new buildings provide will improve student life.

In a conversation with Scholastic, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves discusses the motivations behind the Campus Crossroads Project, how it was put into motion and the future shape of campus.

The Strategic Plan


Every ten years, the president of the university approaches the school’s many branches to get a sense of their vision and aspirations for the next 10 years. These individual plans and goals, John Affleck-Graves explains, are eventually formed into a unified strategic plan.

“We end [the planning] process with essentially the president, the provost and I sitting down and deciding, okay, here are the big priorities for the next 10 years from what we can hear, from what the faculty wants, from what student affairs wants, from what the operating units want [and] from what athletics wants,” Affleck-Graves says.

A capital plan is then developed, outlining the funding required to execute the strategic plan. Fundraising takes place, and, when the capital required for a new building has been raised, plans for construction can be put into motion. The university rarely uses its own capital for building, so development can only take place when fundraising is successful. Buildings are typically only constructed once funding is secured.

The process of planning and fundraising for the Campus Crossroads Project began around the time of the 2011-2012 academic year.

“It was a two year process,” Affleck-Graves says. “At the beginning of probably the last academic year, the beginning of the 2013-2014 year, we had a good sense of what the priorities were. We had a great year in fundraising, so we were able to fund a lot of the key projects.”

A campus plan also factors into university planning and development. The plan maps out potential sites for new buildings and projects the shape of campus over a 5, 25 and 150 year period. 

The plan adheres to seven basic tenets. First, it is conscious of Notre Dame’s Catholic heritage and aims to maintain a sacramental vision by preserving sacred spaces on campus. Second, it maintains that campus is both home and academy, keeping academic and residential buildings in close proximity. Third, the plan is conscious of maintaining the beauty of the natural environment. The plan sticks to traditional building forms, and maintains a collegiate gothic style across campus. It organizes campus with quads, axes and strategic visual focal points in mind, and keeps Notre Dame Avenue as the ceremonial entrance to campus. Finally, the plan works to preserve a pedestrian campus.

With these guidelines in mind, locations for potential new buildings are mapped out.

“We set up the plan,” Affleck-Graves says, “and we create what we call potential sites, that will meet those criterion. Especially when we put a new building in ... [we know] this is what the quad will look like eventually. So when that all gets built out, maybe over 25 years, a building doesn’t look like it’s standing out.”



The location of the Campus Crossroads Project, however, was not proposed in the 2008 draft of the campus plan. The Project arose later in an attempt to find a more suitable location for a building proposed in the plan.

At the root of the Campus Crossroads Project was a need, outlined in the strategic plan, for a new student center to complement LaFortune, Affleck-Graves says. 

“We’ve had [it] on the books for almost 10 years,” he says. “We’ve known there’s a need for a new student center. LaFortune is great, but it’s a little small. We know there is pressure on exercise space, even though we have Rolfs and the Rock, and Stepan is very old.”

But fundraising for the new student center did not go according to plan, largely due to an issue with the proposed building’s location, next to Stepan Center.

“There was always a feeling that the student body wasn’t enthused about it,” Affleck-Graves says. “Nobody could get overly enthused about that site; it was a little bit far out. And I think that [was] kind of portrayed in the way we expressed the project to potential benefactors, and it just never gelled.”

The search then began for a new location for the proposed student center. 

“The concept was that the student center should be convenient for students in their residence halls, should be convenient for students in their classes and academic life and should be convenient for the 1600 or so students that live off campus,” Affleck-Graves says. “So where do you put a student center that can serve all of those people?”

It was clear that the building needed to be close to the nucleus of campus. University Architect Doug Marsh determined the flagpole on South Quad to be the center of campus and drew a five-minute walking circle around it. 

“If you’re on the extreme edge of the circle on one place,” Affleck-Graves says, “and go to the extreme other edge, it’s a 10 minute walk, which is probably manageable. Anything longer than that starts to get difficult.”

The goal then became to find a suitable spot for the student center within this circle. Three potential sites were found. The first open space was Saint Mary’s Lake, obviously not a suitable place for development. The second potential location fell in the center of South Quad, but university officials had no intentions of disrupting the popular space. 

With both spots eliminated, the only open area left was the location of Notre Dame Stadium. For most schools, Affleck-Graves says, the solution would be to move the stadium to the edge of campus.

“When we explored that, almost all other universities that have grown that had large football programs have encountered the same problem, and almost everyone has taken down their stadium and moved it back to the outskirts of the campus,” he says. “When you look at how Notre Dame Stadium was originally built … the buildings [on campus] ended at Hurley, and there was nothing between Hurley and the stadium, so it was off campus. But to be honest, we didn’t think there was any option to take down the football stadium and put it on the other side of  [State Road] 23.”

The committee began to investigate building the student center around the stadium, and discovered that the stadium’s close proximity to a number of popular academic buildings including the Mendoza College of Business, DeBartolo Hall, Stinson-Remick and Fitzpatrick Halls of Engineering and O’Shaughnessy Hall, made it a suitable site for a student center.

“Our academic buildings go in an ‘L’ around the stadium,” Affleck-Graves says. “Then around that ‘L’ go around all the residence halls… So the concept was, wow, you’ve got all this space in a really great location, and we use it 10 times per year.”

The value of the location was clear, but just how much a student center close to these popular buildings would be used was yet to be determined. A study was conducted, monitoring how often students entered and left nearby DeBartolo Hall over the course of a week. Over the brief span of the study, some 110,000 students entered and left the classroom building. Clearly, there is heavy foot traffic in the area.

“We’ve heard from the students regularly that DeBartolo doesn’t have a convenient place where they can sit and work for a half hour or 45 minutes,” Affleck-Graves says. “So [with Campus Crossroads] they have a place where they can walk across the road, get a cup of coffee, have a place where they can work, go to their club ... [or] exercise.”

With the Campus Crossroads location, a “one stop shop” could be developed for students, close to heavily used academic buildings. The location is also convenient for off-campus students, neighboring the popular Stadium parking lot.

University Architect Doug Marsh feels the Crossroads plans make use of a valuable, underutilized area of campus in a way that could be adopted by other universities.

“By concentrating campus growth around the stadium, we avoid sprawl and maintain the pedestrian nature of the campus,” he says. “I suspect that the Campus Crossroads model could be imitated at other universities in their aspirations to achieve the same.”

After agreeing upon the feasibility of the location, attention turned to how to fill the building. The large space provided room for the administration to plan meeting rooms, student lounges, a dining area, a career services center and an exercise facility with an indoor track and triple the amount of exercise equipment currently available in Rolfs. 

“As we got into it, I have to admit, initially, probably, we were all a bit skeptical,” Affleck-Graves says. “But the more we studied the more we fell in love with the concept. This is going to be a spectacular place for the students.’”

Filling Buildings

With plans for the student center in place, focus shifted to the rest of the area surrounding the stadium. Following the collegiate gothic style, the majority of the buildings on Notre Dame’s campus are symmetrical. If only the student center were to be added, administration worried that it, along with the current press box, would make the stadium too asymmetrical. 

To balance this, the idea for additional buildings on the other sides of the stadium arose. But before constructing the building, administration had to find a department to fill it. They again turned to the strategic plan and looked for groups in need of a new space.

But the Campus Crossroads buildings presented a unique set of obstacles for any department moving in. With the buildings sitting flush with the stadium, half of their rooms would lack windows, something few departments desired. 

“Clearly [the Crossroads building is] not a good building for science labs because if you put in fume hoods and all that, you don’t want those chemicals pouring over people watching a football game,” Affleck-Graves says.

Fortunately, two departments in need of a new space were found that could take advantage of the Crossroads buildings’ unique composition; music and psychology.

“Music was in the strategic plan,” Affleck-Graves says. “Crowley Hall is a beautiful hall, but, boy, it has no soundproofing … It wasn’t built for acoustics, [and] it doesn’t have a performance space for the students. So the music department loved the idea of going into a building on the south side designed especially for them. All the practice rooms can be specially designed, [and] it can be temperature controlled because obviously the instruments are sensitive to changes in temperature.”

The music department could take advantage of the windowless rooms by building their practice rooms against the stadium, ensuring privacy for practicing students in the soundproofed rooms.

A similar need for privacy motivated the psychology department’s move into the East Building. Labs placed against the stadium could provide privacy for both students and faculty conducting studies and participants visiting the facility from the community. The location is also far more convenient for visiting participants than Haggar Hall, psychology’s current home.

“Parking on campus is extremely tough,” Affleck-Graves says, “and coming into Haggar Hall, if you’re someone who is coming in with your family or your child for your research projects, it’s not easy to get parking. But if you put [the psychology facility] there, you know once you park east of the existing stadium there’s usually parking in that lot, [and it is a] very easy walk to the building, so I think it fit psychology really well.”

The way that the Campus Crossroads vision came together was a pleasant surprise for the administration, as they found departments that could complement the student center space perfectly.

“I wouldn’t say it was one of those ideas that came in a spark and everything fell into place and everyone went ‘Wow, this is what we should do,’” Affleck-Graves says. “But I think it was one of those things that the more we looked at it the more comfortable we became that this is a truly great and innovative way to use a special space on campus.”

“It was almost magical the way that happened as we explored, how good the fits became,” he says.


The Project has not been free from scrutiny. Critics have questioned the motivations behind the massive development, as well as the design of the new buildings themselves.

In an article for the Irish Rover, Rev. Bill Miscamble, C.S.C., outlines a number of problems he finds with the Crossroads Project.

“Let us be clear on the ultimate purpose of this massive construction proposal,” he says. “It is to gain 4,000 luxury or premium seats in the stadium … Eliminate the luxury seating, and there is no way that Notre Dame would pursue such an ill-considered scheme.”

But Affleck-Graves suggests these claims are unfounded and points towards the myriad benefits the building brings to students. 

“Every building we do on campus has its critics,” he says. “Some people didn’t want Stinson-Remick on Notre Dame Avenue. [They] didn’t think an engineering building should be there, and that’s fine. We do the best we can. You’re not going to satisfy everybody, and I’m sensitive to how people feel about the stadium. I guess that’s the thing that worried us most. Would we change this iconic venue and make it look very different? So we weighed that up against the benefits, and I think that student center in such a great location, in the end we think it’s worth it.”

Miscamble also criticizes the buildings’ architecture.

“The proposed three buildings appear to have been influenced in their design by the Fascist architectural style,” Miscamble says. “I suppose such buildings are erected as statements of wealth and power and are meant to overwhelm. However, they serve mainly as a demonstration of institutional self-aggrandizement that carries an unmistakable message of nouveau riche excess. It is a bad message for Notre Dame to convey to its students.”

In response, Marsh cites an article written by Matt Emerson for America Magazine. “When hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the Stadium after completion of construction,” Emerson writes, “they will no longer be attending games in a temple of sport. They will be heading, in part, to an academic building, to one that holds study spaces for students and offices for professors. Connecting athletics, academics and spirituality signals to a visitor that Notre Dame football is set against a broader horizon of activity and meaning.”

Marsh also suggests that the Crossroads Project’s design falls in line with the style of the rest of campus.

“I think [the Crossroads buildings] will fit very well, as they will employ the same exterior materials of brick, stone and copper in common with most of the rest of our campus buildings,” Marsh says. “Their design is inspired by the original Notre Dame Stadium that was encircled by the 1990’s addition.  Several architectural elements and decorations were borrowed from this building that was opened in 1930. I believe the building will be perceived as being grand but not grandiose.”

General alumni response to the Project has been largely positive. Jim Zavertnik, president of the Alumni Association, says that the alumni he has communicated with are happy about the progress on campus. 

“The feedback I’ve gotten from the alumni who’ve talked about it is, overall, everyone thinks it’s positive,” Zavertnik says. 

“I think the best thing about Campus Crossroads is that there’s finally going to be a serviceable student activities center,” he says. “From the day I arrived on campus in 1975, LaFortune was bursting at the seams and really wasn’t adequate to meet student needs, and they’ve been talking about it for years and years and years. As I saw the project develop, the facilities that are going to be in that West Building dedicated to career services and the students was really the most exciting part of it.”

Alumni, Zavertnik says, always have an inclination towards keeping campus the way they remember it from their days as students. But previous renovations to the stadium changed its face enough that further expansion does not bother most alumni.

“I think that bridge was crossed when the stadium was expanded in 1997,” he says. “There were a lot more people saying, ‘Hey, why are we doing this to this iconic stadium?’ But now that you look at what is being done, and the types of buildings and what’s going to be served by it, I don’t think people are going to have that big of an issue with it.”

Most of the trepidation Zavertnik has heard regarding the stadium concerns the possibility of a video board being installed in the stadium and the intrusive ads it could bring.  Currently, however, no plans exist to bring a video board into the stadium.

Other Development

Campus Crossroads is not the only project scheduled to break ground as part of the newest round of development. New developments include a research facility, beginning the expansion of a new research quad, and two new residence halls. These buildings, like the Crossroads Project, began with goals set in the strategic plan.

“From a plan we had back in 2004-2005, there [was] a time when we decided we needed four new dorms, so we built Duncan and Ryan,” Affleck-Graves says. “So the need [remains] for the next two, so we don’t need to use all the lounge space and study space in dorms to accommodate extra students.”

The new dorms generally follow the successful formula laid out by Duncan and Ryan Halls. They will, however, have minor changes designed to increase unity within the residence halls.

“One small difference in these dorms is trying to create a little bit more of a central space where students will interact from different floors and different sections,” Affleck-Graves says.

The residence halls will be placed on the north side of campus in order to balance the inclusion of Duncan and Ryan Halls on the south side.

The Future

In campus development, there is always an eye kept towards the future. As campus grows, finding space for new buildings becomes more and more challenging. The administration aims to keep development within the current boundaries of campus so it remains friendly to pedestrians without becoming overcrowded.

Future plans include a new architecture facility to be erected to the east of DeBartolo Performing Arts Center that will likely break ground in the next two to three years and a new art museum on the current site of the sculpture garden.

The new research building will also begin the formation of a research quad, extending east past the Ricci Band Rehearsal Hall with two or three new buildings. Other fill-in sites exist for unplanned buildings, and the current site of Stepan Center may give way to a new building if Stepan is ultimately taken down.

With all of this growth, Affleck-Graves says, campus can expand by 40 to 50 percent without extending beyond its current bounds. And while the future of campus growth is always uncertain, potential areas for expansion have been located on the outer areas of campus.

“[For] the next generation [of expansion] we’ll have to think carefully about it,” he says. “It will probably involve us moving north of campus to the area north of Douglas Road… We think in time we may take some of the administrative functions and move them out there so we can keep the teaching and academic parts in the heart of campus, and we may do some of the very very specialized high end research facilities out there. But if you take that space and the existing campus we can more than double the size of campus, so there’s plenty of room to grow.”

As the university develops, there will always be a need for new buildings and expansion. With careful planning, the administration can aim to both grow and maintain the campus atmosphere that students, alumni, faculty and staff treasure.