U wraps up campus renovations

The openings include computer labs, more classrooms and a language center.

JP Leider

The reopening of the West Bank skyway marks the latest in a slew of construction projects recently completed on the Twin Cities campus.

To celebrate the return of Gopher Express West, the Twin Cities Student Unions elected to have a beach-style “blast.” The celebration, which will run through Friday, features free food, prizes and special events.

The skyway is also home to Student Legal Service, One Stop Student Services and, within the next few months, a TCF Bank branch.

“I was sad to see it go,” said acting senior Sid Solomon of the Gopher Express West. The renovation closed the store from April until late August.

“It doesn’t look all that much different, but I’m glad it’s back,” said Solomon, who frequents the store about five to 10 times a week.

The $737,000 project was funded through the Twin Cities Student Unions building reserves, said Jennifer Plath, retail marketing manager for the student unions.

She said increased sales revenue from the additional 250 square feet of space and increased rent from Student Legal Service and One Stop will help recoup the cost of the project in the next five to 10 years.

Jones Hall

After $8.7 million and more than a year of construction, the renovation of Jones Hall concluded Tuesday with the dedication of the site as home to the College of Liberal Arts Language Center, as well as the Admissions Welcome Center.

The new Admissions Welcome Center will serve only freshmen, said student employee Kelly McCarthy.

In its former home, Williamson Hall, the center served international and transfer students, as well as freshmen, said McCarthy, an English junior.

The other occupant of Jones Hall, the CLA Language Center, features four technology classrooms, two student lounges, one walk-in multimedia lab and a studio where instructors can create content for class, said Language Center Director Jenise Rowekamp.

“We planned for the future ñ the whole building will be wireless,” she said. “We have classrooms and labs that are outfitted with computers, but we have the ability to provide content via the Web.”

Rowekamp estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of language students and about 300 to 400 faculty and instructional staff will use the Language Center over the course of a semester.

And students are already putting the lab to use.

English literature senior James Martin said he has visited one of the center’s labs several times over the past few days.

Martin said that although the computers clearly aren’t new, “the chairs are great.”

“People haven’t figured out this lab is here yet, so it’s not too full,” he said. “But that will change.”

Before renovations, the 104-year-old building had no elevator, a wooden roof, one stairway and an antiquated ventilation system, said Paul Oelze, project manager with Capital Planning and Project Management.

The main part of the building also lacked the typical code-required life-safety improvements normally existent in modern buildings, he said.

In addition to Jones Hall’s exterior restoration and interior revamp, the renovation also created a tunnel to Williamson Hall.

Nicholson Hall

Scheduled for a January 2006 reopening, the $24 million rehabilitation of Nicholson Hall will yield 12 classrooms and could house as much as 6 percent of classroom space on East Bank campus, Oelze said.

Nicholson Hall will feature a completely new interior, as only the exterior was salvaged, he said.

“Once you walk through those original stone walls, it’s like you’re in a brand new building,” he said.

Oelze said the University will put about $1 million into furniture for the building and $500,000 into technology for classrooms and seminar rooms.

McGuire Translational Research Facility

“Floor by floor, lab by lab, we’re moving people in,” said Mary Koppel of the recently completed McGuire Translational Research Facility, a $37 million, 96,000 square foot addition to the Lions Research Building on Sixth Street Southeast in Minneapolis.

Koppel, the assistant vice president for public affairs for the Academic Health Center, described the new facility as a place where “basic science” is translated into potential clinical applications.

After the University tore down three buildings to create the Molecular and Cellular Biology building several years ago, Koppel said there’s been a “pent-up, unmet need for new labs.”

“So this is a huge step forward for medical and health research,” she said.

The facility’s architecture provides a strong contrast to the one-person-per-lab design of old, she said. The new model features large rooms with multiple benches, where those in the room can see what happens from one end to the other.

Koppel said she believes the new design will contribute to the speed of breakthroughs by facilitating discussion between scientists.

Now that the construction project is completed, Koppel said, the Academic Health Center will focus on creating more educational space, the funding for which will be provided by the recent bonding bill, which funds University construction projects.