BLOOMINGTON - Jill and Doug Stone met in the 1980s while working in the United Methodist Conference Center at Illinois Wesleyan University.
So the couple wanted to bid farewell when they heard IWU planned to raze the building to make way for a $5 million welcome center.
Last week, they watched as Stark Excavating began its demolition at the corner of Park and University streets.
"It brings back a lot of memories. It is kind of bittersweet," said Doug Stone, watching from beyond the yellow tape enclosing the construction zone.
The couple, who now live in Springfield, sat on lawn chairs at the far end of the parking lot. Other visitors included people from the neighborhood, curious drivers, and IWU faculty and staff.
Terry Tanner, IWU environmental services manager, has worked at the campus about 20 years. He came out of curiousity. "I just wanted to watch for a little bit," he said.
By late last week, work to raze the structure was almost complete.
Once a regional office for the United Methodist Church, IWU bought the structure when the Meth-odist organization moved out.
The future center - a 19,000-square-foot building named in honor of late president Minor Myers Jr. - is set to open in fall 2008, said Dan Klotzbach, the university's vice president for business and finance.
The building, which sits between IWU President Dick Wilson's home and the Evelyn Chapel, reflects the architecture of nearby Presser Hall.
IWU leaders intended to renovate the conference center and planned a fall 2006 opening for the welcome center in that building. However, plans changed after architects from Indianapolis-based CSO Schenkel Schultz advised staff the aging building would require extensive repairs, and changes to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Klotzbach expects general contractor Felmley Dickerson Co. to begin construction in mid-July.
No groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled. In October, when students have returned and the board of trustees gathers on campus, some type of ceremony likely will take place, said Matt Kurz, communications vice president.
Project to take about a year
But first, the existing structure needed to have asbestos removed and be torn down, said Bud Jorgenson, director of IWU's physical plant.
Jorgenson said construction should last about a year, and shouldn't be affected by returning students this fall. The building meets requirements to be environmentally friendly.
The welcome center marks the first major IWU construction project since 2002, when the campus opened its $25.7 million Ames Library and unveiled an $8.1 million renovation of what now is the Hansen Student Center.
A fund-raising campaign for the center began just months after Myers' 2003 death. Alumnus Kent Wallace (1962) and his wife Sue donated $500,000 to the project, and challenged other alumni and IWU friends to contribute.