For its entire 130-year history, Nebraska Wesleyan University has been constrained inside its original boundaries once cleared of sunflowers and plotted by Methodists as a prairie university.
On Tuesday, Nebraska Wesleyan celebrated the groundbreaking of the first academic building to be constructed in University Place in more than three decades and one campus leaders are calling a 21st century science education center.
The Duane W. Acklie Hall of Science -- named for the former Crete Carrier CEO and Lincoln philanthropist who, along with his wife, Phyllis, was a longtime Nebraska Wesleyan supporter -- will open for students in 2019, President Fred Ohles said.
“I can see the building, it’s in my mind’s eye,” said Ohles, who has been working on the project to update the university’s science facilities since shortly after he began at Nebraska Wesleyan in 2007.
When construction begins in June, the building will extend Nebraska Wesleyan’s border to the west, crossing 50th Street and creating an academic quad on campus, an idea Ohles said will connect the university's historic 19th century Old Main building and the new 21st century Acklie Hall.
The privately-financed $27 million building will feature approximately 80,000-square-feet of classroom, laboratory and collaborative learning space across three floors for students engaged in biology, chemistry and psychology coursework.
As the latest academic building built since 1981, the new building will replace the Olin Hall of Science as the primary science education building on campus.
The excitement has the hundreds of Nebraska Wesleyan students whom major in science pathways and pursue careers in health care talking.
“This new, enriched learning space will allow for so many new opportunities for learning,” Morgan Zabel, a sophomore from Omaha who plans to become a doctor, told the more than 200 people who attended Tuesday’s groundbreaking.
She said the new building will be “a space with more student-teacher interaction” and, unlike the existing Olin science building, would be “a space with windows.”
Classmates Amanda Gibson, a sophomore from Boise, Idaho, and Katie Fichter, a sophomore from Omaha -- both of whom will be seniors when the new building is scheduled to open -- agreed with Zabel’s assessment.
Celebrating the news that Acklie Hall will have a new greenhouse on the south side of its first floor near Baldwin Avenue, as well as a second-story balcony looking east toward Old Main, Gibson said the new building at Nebraska Wesleyan is a welcome addition.
“When we first learned about it we were excited, it’s going to be a new space to learn which is pretty cool," Gibson said. "Everyone is going to utilize it."
Susan Gourley, a former superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools and current chair of Nebraska Wesleyan’s Board of Governors, said the Duane W. Acklie Hall of Science “was needed for Nebraska Wesleyan to thrive and grow.”
Both Gourley and Angie Muhleisen, who chaired the fundraising campaign, said the new building will help the university maintain a high level of science education which has stretched back more than a century, according to Gourley.
As Muhleisen noted, more than 750 practicing physicians are Nebraska Wesleyan alums, with two-thirds of those doctors living and practicing in the state. Hundreds of other graduates are physical therapists, physician’s assistants, researchers or science teachers, she added.
After signing a golden beam with the building's new name on it, Phyllis Acklie said both she and Duane’s connection to Nebraska Wesleyan spans decades: Cousins who graduated from the school as well as their daughter, Laura Acklie Schumacher, and “even a great niece” currently enrolled there.
Duane Acklie led the university’s Board of Governors from 1983-86, was an adviser to former President John White as well as Ohles and was later given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1998. Both Acklies have been members of the Nebraska Wesleyan Presidents’ Society for more than two decades.
Acklie died in 2016 at the age of 84.
Jeff Schumacher, a current member of Nebraska Wesleyan’s Board of Governors, said his father-in-law Acklie valued education and “would have been humbled and gratified knowing that thousands of students will pass through these classrooms to find the educational tools and passion for their life’s work.”
To see her late husband’s name on a golden I-beam that will be fitted into place inside the building was special, Phyllis Acklie said.
“It really is very heartwarming,” she said.
Ohles credited the Acklies for helping push fundraising for the building across the finish line and Muhleisen thanked the Acklie family for allowing Nebraska Wesleyan to “lend his name” for the new building.
“Duane W. Acklie did everything for and with Nebraska Wesleyan University except study here,” Ohles said. “Given all these connections and signs of Duane’s devotion, it is fitting to honor him today by breaking ground for the Duane W. Acklie Hall of Science.”
More than $28.5 million has been raised for the building so far -- exceeding Wesleyan’s goal amount to begin construction -- and the university has no plans of stopping until it can install new equipment and cutting-edge instruments into the building.
Students at Nebraska Wesleyan have noticed.
“My university is investing in my science education,” Zabel said. “Nebraska Wesleyan values science and cares about the future of science education.”