When the Chemical and Physical Laboratory was constructed on campus in 1890, technology was much simpler.
More than a century later, Nicholson Hall (as it was renamed in 1945) has been renovated and reconstructed to provide a 21st-century education.
This afternoon the College of Liberal Arts honors department, Center for Writing, the department of cultural studies and comparative literature and the department of classical and near eastern studies will celebrate the reopening of the building.
The building reopened in late November after two years of renovations and the four departments began moving in after Thanksgiving, assistant to the associate dean Scott Elton said.
The building was gutted, said Mike Jordan, project manager for the Minneapolis firm Collaborative Design Group, and efforts were made to preserve the historical character of the building.
For example, the light fixtures in the main entryway are from 1920 and were refurbished and reinstalled, he said.
Another part of the renovation was to install modern technology throughout the building, Jordan said.
Classical and near eastern studies and cultural studies and comparative literature, both formerly housed on the third floor of Folwell Hall, moved into the second floor of Nicholson over winter break, said George Sheets, chairman of classical and near eastern studies.
CLA chose to move Sheets’ department because the college had planned to consolidate the modern languages in Folwell, and Classical and Near Eastern Studies teaches ancient languages, he said.
Nicholson is “a wonderful building to teach in,” Sheets said.
In the new space, the department has newer offices, more space for teaching assistants, an expanded library, an archaeology lab and a staff kitchen that is shared with the cultural studies and comparative literature department, he said.
Because the department has priority scheduling for classes in Nicholson, the building allows for more of a home base, he said.
“I think that students can’t help but notice the vast improvement of the quality of the classroom space,” Sheets said.
The new classrooms have new furniture, up-to-date technology and are well lighted, he said.
The CLA honors offices have found a permanent home in Nicholson Hall.
When the honors department was created 40 years ago, it had temporary space in Johnston Hall, said Rick McCormick, CLA honors department director.
“We couldn’t be happier,” he said of the move to Nicholson Hall.
The new offices provide honors students with a special study lounge and also allow for summa theses of the past to be housed for students’ perusal, McCormick said.
The newly renovated space “represents a significant investment in honors by the college and the University,” he said.
Another group that found a home in the new building is CLA’s Center for Writing.
In its former home at Lind Hall, the Center for Writing was much smaller and harder for students to find, director Kirsten Jamsen said.
The new center has windows that face the commons area on the ground floor, allowing students to peek in and see what the center is all about, she said.
The new space is more versatile and allows for many more consultations, Jamsen said.
The writing consultants are still experimenting with the setup, as all of the computers, desks and chairs are on wheels, she said.
Since the start of the semester, the center has seen 10 to 15 students daily, she said, a slight increase from past years’ daily totals.
Jamsen said she hopes the center will be able to offer seminars and workshops with the larger space.
At the celebration today, students can listen to music from a jazz ensemble from the School of Music before hearing welcome words from CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone.
Other speakers include Craig Swan, vice provost for Undergraduate Education and honors student Katie Shimek.
Students can also tour classical and near eastern studies’ new archaeology lab and hear passages from Homer and Aeschylus in Greek and Latin, view short films by professor Hisham Bizri, get a taste of the Center for Writing’s one-on-one consultations and tour the honors offices.