KOKOMO, Ind. – When Indiana University Kokomo dedicated the Main Building in 1965, it was envisioned as an IU campus all in one place. Leadership at that time could never have imagined that 55 years later, not only would the Main Building be completely different than when it opened, but that the campus would be building its 14th building, and reaching into downtown Kokomo as well.
“I don’t think they ever thought we would expand beyond this building,” said John Sarber, director of physical facilities. “The Main Building housed the cafeteria, the library, faculty offices, classrooms, and an auditorium. When it was built, they thought this building was everything this campus would ever need. Now look at us, with a full campus.”
Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke has had a front-row seat to most of the growth, arriving as a faculty member in 1977, three years before the East Building opened, the second building on campus.
While the physical footprint may have changed, however, some things have stayed constant.
“The campus has maintained its intimacy and its sense of community,” she said, and has grown to include more of Kokomo, with the Cougar Gym downtown and athletic teams playing at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Foster Park. “We’ve expanded our footprint into the city, and integrated ourselves within the community.”
Sciame-Giesecke noted that some of the most important changes have been repurposing of existing space, rather than adding to the physical footprint. For example, a storage room in the Library’s lower level was converted into the Cole Fitness Center in 2013, adding an amenity long-requested by students.
The most significant was the $14 million updating of the Main Building, completed in 2016. The project essentially gutted the inside down to the walls, then transformed it, with new classrooms, gathering spaces, a food and nutrition lab, updated technology, and more.
“In the past 10 years, the renovation of a lot of our existing space has as much of an impact as enlarging the footprint,” she said. “That project has transformed everything we are. We didn’t add a lot of space, but we made it more conducive to 21st century learning. That was huge.
“When you stop and look back to 2010, all the changes that happened in the last decade were pretty remarkable.”
Throughout IU Kokomo’s 75-year history, growth came at the right pace to allow campus to keep up, but also gradually enough that it could almost escape notice.
“The nice part about IU Kokomo is that it has grown logically and slowly. We’ve never been in a position where we didn’t have enough space,” Sciame-Giesecke said. “We’ve always been able to perform our mission. Sometimes when things happen slowly, you don’t see it.”
IU Kokomo’s story began in rented space on West Taylor Street, then grew into the Seiberling Mansion. Expanding enrollment precipitated construction of the Main Building on South Washington Street, opening in 1965.
The addition of the East Building in 1980 gave the School of Nursing a home, and allowed faculty their own offices, rather than cubicles in the basement.