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IUSB employees urge purchase of former natatorium

By MARGARET FOSMOE - Like Margaret on Facebook

South Bend Tribune

7:28 PM EDT, May 1, 2013

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SOUTH BEND -- Some Indiana University South Bend employees are urging Chancellor Una Mae Reck to seek the purchase of the city's former natatorium, which houses IUSB's Civil Rights Heritage Center.

The university currently leases the historic building at 1040 W. Washington St. from South Bend Heritage Foundation for $1 a year, and has the right to purchase it for just $1.

IUSB employees last Friday presented to Reck, who is stepping down as chancellor in June, a written statement signed by about 100 professors, deans and librarians asking that she complete the purchase and make the Civil Rights Heritage Center building a permanent part of IUSB. They also gave Reck a light-hearted "collection" they had taken up to complete the purchase: 100 pennies.

"Let's make sure that our community understands the strength and depth of our commitment to the place and to the historical lessons it will continue to teach us by making this facility now and forever IU," the statement reads.

"We're frustrated. We wanted the university to have done it (completed the purchase) before now," said Alma Powell, the center's interim director.

By buying the building, IUSB will deepen ties between the university and the people of the region, Ken Smith said. He's an English professor and director of IUSB's Wolfson Press, which has published three books on civil rights history in this region.

"Every community has shameful episodes in its history. But the Natatorium story includes many proud episodes too. In fighting segregation, a part of our community that was marginalized rose into its rightful place in our civic life," he said.

The city natatorium was built in 1922. The swimming pool was limited to use by whites only until 1936 and use wasn't fully integrated until 1950.

The facility closed in 1978 and stood vacant for many years, until the city and IUSB worked together to demolish the pool, expand the building, and make it an education center and museum about civil rights.

In 2010, when the renovated building was dedicated and the Civil Rights Heritage Center moved there, IUSB signed an agreement with South Bend Heritage to lease the building for three years at $1 per year, IUSB spokesman Ken Baierl said. The university pays for maintenance, security, insurance and other upkeep.

That three-year lease will end June 30, but IUSB administrators already have exercised an option to extend the lease for an additional year, Baierl said. And there is an option to extend it for a fifth year.

Reck wants her successor, Chancellor-Elect Terry Allison, to have a say in whether to seek purchase of the building, Baierl said. Once purchased, the university becomes responsible permanently for running and maintaining the building, he noted.

"The new chancellor can make the recommendation on whether to purchase or not," Baierl said. Any request by an IU campus to purchase property must go through the University Architect's office in Bloomington and requires approval of top administrators in Bloomington.

IUSB officials in recent months have been working to reduce the 2013-2014 campus budget by $2 million to avoid an anticipated shortfall.

"The one-year extension will give time for the next administration to decide what to do," Baierl said. For the next year, the Civil Rights Heritage Center will continue operating as usual, with exhibits, lectures and other public events.

"I think owning the building would really show our commitment to the community and to the mission of that building," said Elizabeth Dunn, dean of IUSB's College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Ownership of the building would make it more likely IUSB could obtain grants and fundraising gifts for exhibits and projects at the center, she said.

"I had really hoped this would be the year (the purchase would occur)," Dunn said. "I'm not panicked about it. I think we'll get it figured out."

IUSB this week announced that a new director has been hired for the Civil Rights Heritage Center. Previous director Kevin Lamarr James left last October to take a job in Chicago.

The new director will be historian and law scholar Marc Rodriguez, who currently is a research fellow at the University of Wisconsin Law School. He'll start July 1.

Rodriguez previously worked for seven years at the University of Notre Dame, where he was an assistant professor in the departments of history, law and American studies, as well as a fellow of the Institute for Latino Studies and a fellow with the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies. Prior to that, Rodriguez was a fellow in southwestern history at Southern Methodist University and taught history at Princeton University.

He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a master's degree and doctorate in U.S. history from Northwestern University, and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin School of Law.

Rodriguez specializes in the fields of Mexican-American and American legal history focusing on the relationships between migration, ethnicity, youth politics, state reform and labor. He is the author of the book "Tejano Diaspora: Mexican Americanism and Ethnic Politics in Texas and Wisconsin," which won the National Association of Chicano & Chicana Studies' Texas Nonfiction Book Award in 2012.

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Staff writer Margaret Fosmoe:
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