Willamette University Dedicates New Residential Facility

The booming of taiko drums and the beauty of 1,000 origami paper cranes were just two elements of Willamette University's traditional Japanese dedication ceremony Feb. 15 for Kaneko Commons, a $17.5 million residential community project.

The ceremony reflected Kaneko's focus on Japanese heritage, a unique characteristic stemming from Willamette's long-standing relationship with Tokyo International University (TIU) in Kawagoe, Japan. Tokyo International University of America (TIUA), located next to Kaneko, is TIU's only campus outside Japan.

Students, builders, faculty, and dignitaries from Japan, including the president of TIU, were among those in attendance at the dedication ceremony. "This is a new era for Willamette University and one worthy of our mutual commemoration," said Willamette President M. Lee Pelton.

With new and remodeled construction complete, the 72,000-square-foot Kaneko Commons features two community kitchens and nine student room options, including four-bedroom apartments. A three-story atrium houses Kaneko Café, which features numerous food choices including Japanese cuisine. More than 350 students live in Kaneko Commons, 151 of those in the new addition. Kaneko opened its rooms to students in August, but the atrium was recently finished.

"The development of the commons takes our relationship with TIU to a new level," said Gunnar Gundersen, TIUA's executive vice president. "By working on such a major project together, one that has such a huge impact on Willamette, it symbolizes a unique mutual commitment."

The relationship allows numerous Willamette students and faculty to travel, study or teach in Japan yearly, and TIU students spend a year at Willamette as fully integrated undergraduates.

Another distinct element of the Kaneko project is that it introduces the residential commons concept at Willamette. Rooted in the college models of Oxford and Cambridge in the 13th century, Willamette's commons model features graduated housing arrangements for all classes of students, is self-governing with elected student officers, and includes a substantial faculty presence. A wide array of programming elaborates on the site's three themes -- sustainability, Japanese heritage and community service -- and encourages intellectual stimulation beyond the classroom.

Kaneko Commons also was built to meet the standards for LEED silver and possibly gold certification. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a U.S. Green Building Council rating system that is a benchmark for sustainable building practices.