Enrollment in business curricula showed tremendous growth at the University of Northern Iowa in the 1970s and 1980s. During that time, the business program and staff were housed in Seerley Hall, the former Library, where classrooms, offices, and other facilities were badly overcrowded and showing their age. While Seerley Hall had been remodeled in 1966 for business classes, it was inadequate in both size and quality to meet the needs of the expanding enrollment.
At their November 1976 meeting, the Board of Regents approved a project budget and selected an architect for a new classroom building for business classes. The budget was $4.025 million, and the architects were Thorson, Brom, Broshar, and Snyder. The building would be four stories tall, with 57,784 square feet. It would be located between Seerley Hall and the Old Administration Building, on the former site of Old Gilchrist Hall, which burned in 1972. However, funding for this new building depended on a successful Economic Development Administration grant.
That grant was not funded, the building was not built, and business enrollment continued to grow. Not until 1986 did the state approve bonding for a new business building. In June of that year, the Regents authorized UNI to hire an architect for a new classroom and office building with a preliminary project budget of $10.2 million. The building would house facilities for the School of Business and the Academic Computing Center. The location of the new building was to be just east of Russell Hall, on the site of Prexy's Pond and the tennis courts.
Director of Campus Planning Leland Thomson said that planning would take about nine months followed by eighteen to twenty months of construction.
In July 1986, the Regents approved the Iowa City firm of Hansen-Lind-Meyer as architects for the project. Planners hoped that construction would start in the fall of 1986. But site selection continued into the fall. While the Prexy's Pond site seemed to be the most favored location, some students lamented the potential loss of the tennis courts in that area and suggested the area north of Seerley Hall; the area west of the West Gymnasium, formerly the site of O. R. Latham Stadium; or even the parking lot between the Regents Complex and Gilchrist Hall.
In October 1986, the Regents gave final approval to a $10.2 million budget for a building featuring classrooms, seminar rooms, offices, and business laboratories. The site was seen as being in "the southeast quadrant of campus".
Northern Iowan cartoonist Paul Marlow had some good-natured fun at the expense of President Curris, the Dome, and continuing questions about the building site in December 1986.
Later in December 1986, Leland Thomson announced that the new building would indeed be constructed on the Prexy's Pond site.
He noted that "The present pond is a mess" and that the nearby Power Plant 1, with its less than attractive coal pile, was scheduled for removal. He cited the architects' recommendation and the campus master plan in announcing the site selection. Construction was scheduled to begin in fall 1987 with completion in fall 1989.
Power Plant 1 was razed in the spring of 1988, and Prexy's Pond was drained and filled. In June 1988, the Regents awarded the general contract for the new 100,000 square foot business building to Story Construction Company of Ames. Site preparation got underway soon thereafter. On August 31, 1988, Dean Paul Uselding, former Dean Robert J. Waller, former acting Dean ElVon Warner, Kathleen Keefe Wilson (widow of the late business department head Leonard Keefe), Provost James Martin, and other dignitaries participated in a groundbreaking ceremony that signaled the beginning of the construction of the new Business Building.
Construction progressed on the $10.2 million structure through the winter of 1988-1989, with completion scheduled for July 1990.
The "topping off" ceremony, with workers placing the last beam, took place on March 2, 1989. This ceremony, of European origin, uses an evergreen tree to symbolize the strength of the new building.
As the work continued, several people in the UNI community commented on the architectural style. Leland Thomson noted that the new building would show a "nice transition from old to new". He thought that the red brick walls and limestone trim would be consistent with old and new buildings on campus.
The building was completed in July 1990. Faculty and staff began moving into the new space that month and the building was opened for classes for the fall semester of 1990. On June 25, 1991, over 150 business and community leaders, faculty, and students formally dedicated the new building with "A Celebration of Business". Lee Liu, chairman of the board of IES Industries, noted that "Iowa's change from an agricultural economy to an agriculture-plus economy is reflected in the direction UNI has set for itself in training highly qualified business majors." President Curris said that the new building was "An important investment by the people of the state in our future and their future. We are mindful of the trust placed in us."
For its first eight years, the building was known simply as the Business Building. In March 1998, and in keeping with the tradition of naming one campus facility after each of UNI's presidents, UNI officials sought Regents approval to name the Business Building after Constantine "Deno" Curris, who was President of UNI from 1983 through 1995. The request noted that
. . . one of the student-centered aspects of the institution that President Curris accorded high priority was an attractive and supportive physical environment. Toward that end he instituted significant changes that increased the physical attractiveness of the campus and worked effectively to secure additional funding for needed building construction and renovation.
The Regents approved this request.
On October 2, 1998, the university held a ceremony that marked the naming of the Curris Business Building. President Koob, Joy Corning, Don Avenson, Owen Newlin, Willis Greer, Tony McAdams, and Andrea Nechanicky spoke at the ceremony. Don Avenson, former member of the General Assembly, paid special tribute:
When he (President Curris) first came here, we were in the midst of probably the greatest depression since 1932, both economically and in spirit. When he came along, he was like a sniff of ammonia to a General Assembly that had almost been cold-cocked--I mean, it was down and out. He brought a whole new perspective to people who were trying very hard to make Iowa better.
Former President Curris responded on behalf of himself and his wife when he said, "Jo and I were deeply touched by the action. It was unexpected, but I must tell you, it was very humbling."
On November 2, 1998, room 109 of the Curris Business Building was named the John Deere Auditorium in recognition of a $250,000 gift from the John Deere Foundation.
The Curris Business Building continues to serve as the home for College of Business Administration classrooms and offices, certain external services, and a variety of computer services.
The academic departments located in the Curris Business Building include the Departments of Accounting, Marketing, Finance, Management, and Economics.
Compiled by Library Assistant Susan Basye; edited by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, July 1996; substantially revised by Gerald L. Peterson, with research assistance by Student Assistant Anthony Boggs and scanning by Library Assistant Gail Briddle, March 2003; last updated, November 8, 2011 (GP); photos and citations updated by Graduate Assistant Eliza Mussmann, May 12, 2022.