Valparaiso University students, staff and community members gathered together on April 26, 2014 to celebrate the groundbreaking of the newest addition to the Chapel of the Resurrection. After 16 months of construction, the new Helge Center is finally complete.
The addition was funded by a $15 million donation by alumni Rev. Mark Helge and his wife Kathleen Koepp Helge, both of whom graduated from Valpo in 1971.
The 11,000-square-foot addition includes a kitchen with commercial appliances, spacious staff offices, a common room with rearrangeable tables and chairs and a multipurpose room, as well as a smaller soundproof reflection room for private conversations and bible study groups. In addition, the building is surrounded by a variety of colorful flowers, with a meadow walk between the Center and the original Chapel.
There is also a large music rehearsal space located in the back of the building that has been specially designed for optimal acoustic sound. It features recording and playback technology, storage for handbells and other musical equipment and special posture chairs for singers.
Pastor James Wetzstein, whose previous office was located in the basement of the Chapel, moved to the building in July. He said that in addition to enjoying the view from his new window, he also liked the idea that most of his colleagues were now under one roof.
“By bringing all of the offices within close proximity to one another, the ability for us to be in collaborative conversations as a staff has increased,” Wetzstein said.
Rev. Brian Johnson, the executive director of campus ministries, shared this idea. He said the new building highlights what he calls “the three D’s: dialogue, discernment and delight.”
Johnson said the open communal spaces allow for “dialogue between God and us and the world.” This would lead to discernement, or “thinking more deeply about our senses of calling in the world.”
The third “D,” delight, is the “joy of being with each other,” Johnson said.
He added that the intimacy from everyone working in close proximity would be conducive to that joy.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Helge Center is the way it was constructed. Because the Chapel is considered by many to be the university’s key feature, the steering and advisory committees wanted to make sure that the original structure would be preserved.
For this reason, the Helge Center was built downhill of the Chapel, so as not to block out the natural light that typically illuminates the building during the day. In addition, the color of the Helge Center’s exterior walls was carefully chosen to avoid overshadowing the bold bricks of the original building.
However, there were a few renovations made to the Chapel. Five million dollars of the Helges’ donation went to replacing the heating units, installing a new sound system, enabling video recording and live streaming and creating two handicapped-accessible restrooms. A few old offices were also turned into a vestry for storing and changing into albs.
The remainder of the donation was set aside as an endowment for the future upkeep of the Helge Center.
Shannon Segin, chair of the Social Action Leadership Team (SALT), said that her organization is already benefitting from the new addition. She said about 90 students came out for the first meeting of the year, a crowd which would have been too large for the previous spaces.
Segin also said it was “crucial” for the organization, which is run out of the Chapel, to have a home there.
“I imagine SALT will be staying there for years to come,” Segin said.
That’s exactly what Johnson hopes people will notice. He said that while the exterior may be welcoming and pleasing to the eye, the real importance is in the addition’s function. Johnson said he has already seen students meeting in the common areas and engaging in discourse, and he wants to see even more of that.
“Come and visit,” Johnson said.
The Helge Center will be dedicated during this year’s homecoming celebrations, according to the university’s website.
Contact Stacy McKeigue at firstname.lastname@example.org