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The Gene Eppley Administration Building: Philanthropy at Work

by Charles Reed

The Epply Administration building, located snugly between Roskens Hall and the Milo Bail Student Center, hasn’t always been home to UNO’s top administrative staff. For almost 20 years the red brick building used to be the campus library before the Criss Library was built in the 1970s.

The planning stages of the new library began in 1949 after the Sapp Fieldhouse had just finished construction. The previous library was located in the northeast building of the Arts and Sciences building and severely lacked space for the needs of both the libraraians and the students. After going through several years of committee meetings, the $850,000 project broke ground in June of 1954 where, previously, tennis courts had been located.

Built with a main entrance facing Dodge Street, the library would include a first floor dedicated to rooms for conferences, audio-visual presentations and lectures. The second floor would maintain all of the library’s books and documents, which at the time totaled 50,000 volumes. Money for preliminary costs like architectural designs and land surveyors had come from Eugene Eppley, owner of the Eppley Hotel Company and, specifically, Hotel Fontenelle with the university covering the remaining cost of construction but, in 1955, Eppley decided to cover the entire cost of the library project and, as such, would bear his name from that point onward. The $850,000 donation was the largest donation ever made to the university at that point.

The library opened its doors in January of 1956 to rave reviews from staff that called the building “awe-inspiring” and “beautiful” while students complemented the building as “so beautiful” that she couldn’t stay away. Meanwhile books continued to be donated and purchased by the university with room for up to 250,000 volumes; over five times the space in the original Arts and Sciences location but a far cry from the current number of 700,000-plus in the Criss Library.

Foot traffic also increased rapidly, with one Gateway article saying that the numbers had tripled from what it was in the early 1950s in the Arts and Sciences building to what it was in 1959 in the Gene Eppley Library.

By 1963 the building was in need of expansion and, late in the year, two new wings were added to the building’s current structure. By this time the construction was completed, the library had moved from 50,000 books in 1952 to 145,000 books; a huge increase that matched a similarly large boom in students – over 8100 in 1963, a 400-student jump from the previous year.

However, the expansion couldn’t stave off a need for a new facility. In 1970, talk began to build of a new structure to hold the campus’ expanding student population, which was anticipated to reach 15,000 by 1973 and 20,000 by 1980 (the highest enrollment UNO has ever had is 16,227 in 1993). In 1974 a completion date on what would become the Criss Library was set at 1976 and by ’76, the library had moved into its new home.

Meanwhile, the Eppley Building became a transitional home for UNO’s administrators with registration and admissions offices moving in to the building as books were being moved out. A $2 million request over the next two years was made to renovate the building; however, it wasn’t until 1981 that the necessary renovations were completed. When all was said and done in the building, it became the home for offices of Campus Security, Institutional Research, University Relations, Veteran’s Affairs and the Chancellor, just to name a few.

Minor renovations have gone on in the Eppley Administration Building since 1981, with offices being moved around and refurnished, but not a lot has changed in 30 years. Most recently, a department devoted entirely to parking was split off from Campus Security and given it’s own space between Cashiering and the Registrar on the southeast side of the building.

While it’s a building that not a lot of students get a chance to walk around in as much as say, the Arts and Sciences building or the Criss Library, the role it has played, and still plays, on campus is an important one. For almost 60 years, the Eppley Administration Building has stood as not only a multi-function facility but as a testament to the tangible effects of generosity and philanthropy.

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