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Renovations change atmosphere, functionality of academic buildings

By Ken Johnson, Staff Writer

Ken Johnson/Staff The new academic commons in McConnell Hall aims to make the hall a ‘destination’ building, where students choose to go outside of academic classes.
Ken Johnson/Staff
The new academic commons in McConnell Hall aims to make the hall a ‘destination’ building, where students choose to go outside of academic classes.

McConnell and Horton halls have undergone many renovations recently — changing the way people can use them, their overall atmosphere and their functionality.

McConnell Hall has gone through an extensive renovation over the last year and is now home to the psychology department, sociology department, the Family Research Lab and College of Liberal Arts (COLA) Advancement.

McConnell Hall used to be the home of the Whittemore School of Business and Economics, which has now been renamed the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics. In 2013, the Paul College moved to its new building on Garrison Avenue, vacating McConnell Hall.

McConnell Hall was built in 1967, and has now gone through a $10 million renovation, which was an interior gut renovation leaving the exterior of the building as it was. Central air has been added to the building.

“One of the important elements is to create a building, now that as the university basically moves to a 12 month calendar, it becomes more and more imperative that you have air conditioning and comfortable environments for the students,” said Kevin Sousa, college academic affairs coordinator for COLA.

An academic commons has been created at the entrance of McConnell, which was designed to be the “gem” of the building. Sousa said it has computer clusters, a common area and group learning areas.

“What we are trying to do here is create a ‘destination’ building, as opposed to just an academic building where students come in, have class, sit around in the hallways while waiting for class or waiting for a professor and then leave,” Sousa said.

“We tried, when possible, to leave the footprint as is to save money,” Sousa said. To save some money, Sousa said furniture was saved when the Paul School moved out.

According to Sousa, classrooms in McConnell have SMART screens. The new, high- tech classrooms in McConnell Hall interface nicely with presentation software, said chair of psychology William Stine.

“Through the entire process, the department was actively involved,” Sousa said.

Another benefit to the McConnell Hall renovations is that it has a positive ambiance, which both the students and faculty like, Stine said.

“I think you can’t say enough about the environment as a positive element in teaching and learning,” Sousa said.

The psychology department offices are now located on the fourth floor of McConnell Hall. Previously, the psychology department had been split up between Conant Hall, Brook Way and Nesmith Hall.

“We are all seeing each other a lot more, which I think is great for camaraderie,” Stine said.

Like McConnell, Horton Hall has recently seen improvements.

Horton Hall was built in 1966, and this summer received roughly $1.5 million for a full renovation of the third floor. Two years ago, renovations started on the second floor of Horton Hall and continued last summer. The first and the fourth floors are still awaiting renovations, which will continue next summer.

“We just felt it was time to create an environment that was more appropriate for the level of faculty and students that we have,” Sousa said.

The renovations to Horton Hall have provided classrooms with basic things such as shades to screen out the sun and keep the classrooms from becoming hot, Jeannie Sowers, associate professor of political science said. Seminar spaces now have air conditioning, Sowers said

“[Lecture halls] have been reconfigured to actually make it easier to engage with students,” Sowers said. They now have a bowl shape, which allows movement around the room and the ability to have students work in groups. The classrooms are more aesthetically pleasing now as well,” Sowers said.

“A minor detail, but I love to try to put a little wood in because you are basically dealing with cement blocks, so warming up a space like this is essential,” Sousa said, describing a renovated lecture hall.

As Sousa summarized, space has been made for students to congregate, sit and interact with professors.

“It’s actually made a huge difference for the quality of life I think for both the students and the faculty,” Sowers said.

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