Supplemental request will provide for renovations

Nancy Ngo

Walking into Ford Hall, University students will soon see a majority of classrooms with refurnished seats and improved lighting — and maybe even a place to plug in their laptop computers.
Renovated classrooms across campus are expected to further change how instructors teach and the way students learn, University administrators said. The main priority is to bring substandard learning areas up to par.
Three years ago the University commissioned a report to grade each of its classrooms on criteria which included the ability of students to see and hear instructors. At least 25 percent of classrooms failed to reach established benchmarks.
That’s why the University forwarded its $41.5 million supplemental budget request Tuesday to the Senate Higher Education Budget Division. The request includes $4.5 million for classroom improvements.
Such a proposal complements the school’s $249 million capital budget request, which would take improving classrooms a step further by renovating them with new technology.
After hearing the specifics of the supplemental package Tuesday, lawmakers questioned whether it overlapped too much with the capital improvement plan.
But University administrators stressed that the capital request would go toward renovating buildings, while the supplemental would only refurbish classrooms not included in the larger request.
“These classrooms will be fixed up on all four campuses,” said University President Mark Yudof. But because many instruction facilities on the Twin Cities campuses are the worst, he said roughly 35 percent of classrooms on this campus would be fixed-up in one way or another.
Parts of the supplemental budget are devoted to maintaining classrooms by improving lighting, repainting walls, recarpeting floors and replacing furniture. The changes are mostly cosmetic compared to those covered under the capital request, which would completely renovate and construct buildings.
Facilities committees have yet to identify which classrooms will get makeovers first. But Yudof said the buildings surrounding the Northrop Mall area will be strong candidates because of the high number of undergraduate students who use that space.
If the capital budget request is approved, the University will go forward with upgrading certain classrooms to multi-media facilities. For example, computer projectors and alternative lighting and sound systems would be installed in some rooms.
So far, some rooms have been overhauled to bring in the latest technologies, said Harvey Turner, a Facilities Management planner.
A lecture room in the College of Veterinary Medicine had an extensive makeover this summer when it condensed the capacity of a lecture room from 110 students to 90. But the room expanded in teaching and learning capacity.
The lecture hall now has tables and movable chairs for easier interaction between students. The hall also has enough outlets for every student, so laptop computers could eventually be a part of lecture, said Micky Trent, associate dean for academic and student affairs.
In addition, wiring to allow features such as access to the World Wide Web and a video projector are available to spice up lectures.
“Interactive technology in the classrooms is changing the learning environment,” Turner said.
Still, planners say they are taking precautions not to disrupt traditional learning. They are not ripping out chalkboards or removing dry erase boards and overhead projectors.
Rather, University planners will consult with teachers and students to find out what their specific study and learning needs are for academic areas. “I’m not advocating that level of technology because it’s not needed for every classroom situation,” Turner said.