Cardinal Stritch University to Buy Cousins Center
Milwaukee Archdiocese Site to Be Added Campus

By Tom Heinen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 15, 2008

Cardinal Stritch University has reached an agreement with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to buy the 415,000-square-foot Cousins Center and its approximately 44-acre site in St. Francis, university officials announced Monday.

The purchase would enable Stritch to expand beyond its largely landlocked 38-acre main campus, which straddles the Fox Point/Glendale border at 6801 N. Yates Road.

One of the university's goals is to increase its number of traditional-age college students, who are not now in the majority. Under one scenario, those students might be taught at the St. Francis site, and the current campus primarily would focus on graduate students and on older undergraduates, many of whom have full-time jobs.

Daylilies bloom Monday at the Cousins Center along on S. Lake Drive in St. Francis. The property is being sold to Cardinal Stritch University.
Photo by Rick Wood

A sale price has been set but was not released. A final sale is contingent upon rezoning of the property by the City of St. Francis. Stritch's board of trustees and the administrative team for the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, the university's sponsors, also would need to approve the purchase.

"We are delighted to be moving forward with this purchase," said Helen C. Sobehart, who on Monday was in her ninth day as Stritch's new president. "Our presence on the south side would allow us to more effectively increase educational access for a broader and more diverse population, particularly the underserved.

"And the purchase richly reflects the history of Stritch, which started in what is now St. Francis in 1937 as Saint Clare College, and of the Sisters, who formed their congregation there in 1849 and whose Motherhouse remains there, just north of the Cousins site."

She said the site offers space for sports fields and an opportunity for the university to serve the south side of Milwaukee and the southern half of Milwaukee County by partnering with local governments, businesses and educational institutions.

The Cousins Center was constructed as a high school seminary at 3501 S. Lake Drive in 1963. It closed as a preparatory seminary at the end of the 1979-'80 school year, and the archdiocesan central offices moved there in 1983.

Costly to maintain, it was larger than needed even before the financially strapped archdiocese began downsizing its staff in recent years. The archdiocese had been trying to sell the property, partly to pay off a $4.6 million loan that helped pay its $8.25 million portion of a nearly $17 million settlement of 10 sexual abuse lawsuits in California in 2006.

Some archdiocesan offices moved to the St. Joseph Center, 1501 S. Layton Blvd., as the archdiocese marketed the Cousins Center.

The sales agreement includes a lease-back option that would enable the remaining offices to stay in the center for up to two years while space is renovated for them at the nearby St. Francis Seminary, said Jerry Topczewski, Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan's chief of staff.

The property being sold includes a very small part of Seminary Woods, but the intent of the archdiocese is to see that this parcel and the rest of the woods remain protected, Topczewski said. The 70-acre woods with its pristine forest and wildflowers is one of the last and least-spoiled remnants of the original landscape that covered most of Milwaukee County.

In a Monday afternoon e-mail to priests, parish staffs and other leaders, Dolan wrote that he was excited by the impending purchase and noted that it could spur other development in the area.

"I am especially happy that the property will remain in the orbit of the Catholic Church," Dolan wrote. "Cardinal Stritch University's mission is part of the overall educational mission of the Church in southeastern Wisconsin."

Dolan wrote that the sales price and other details would be released after the sale.

Bucks still welcome

The sale apparently would not affect the Milwaukee Bucks, who have had their practice facility, coaches, general manager and director of player personnel based in the Cousins Center since the fall of 1997 under a long-term contract.

Sobehart said Stritch "would welcome the continuation of that lease," and Ron Walter, Bucks vice president, said, "The current training facility works well for the Bucks, and it's our intention to stay there. I see no reason why our use wouldn't be compatible what's now being discussed regrading Cardinal Stritch in the event the property would be sold."

Sobehart thought it unlikely that any academic programs would be offered at the site during the 2008-'09 school year. The center would have to be brought up to building code standards, and renovation work would need to be done, especially to enlarge former seminarian quarters for use as dormitory rooms.

Stritch describes itself as the largest Franciscan institution of higher education in the nation and the second-largest independent college in Wisconsin. Its mission, which has a "Franciscan focus on serving the underserved by transforming lives through value-centered education," can be achieved only with the opportunity to expand over time, officials said in prepared release.

Minnesota, Madison sites

In addition to the main campus, Stritch has campuses in Edina, Minn., and Madison, which serve primarily working adults in its College of Business and Management and College of Education and Leadership. The Edina site also will soon offer classes through Stritch's Ruth S. Coleman College of Nursing.

The university also offers classes in business and education at more than 30 other sites in both states.

Total enrollment on all of those campuses is about 3,100 undergraduate students, fewer than 1,000 of whom are in the traditional, 17- to 24-year-old college age group, plus about 3,800 graduate students.


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