Members of the English department speak about Pillsbury Hall move

The building has undergone renovations since 2018 and will officially reopen this fall to house the English department, creative writing program and brand new Liberal Arts Engagement Hub.

Pillsbury Hall as seen on Sept. 16, 2015. The building is the second-oldest standing building on campus.

Sam Harper

Pillsbury Hall as seen on Sept. 16, 2015. The building is the second-oldest standing building on campus.

Pillsbury Hall once again has new residents as the nearly two year renovation of the second-oldest standing building on the University of Minnesota campus comes to a close.

Constructed in 1889, the building has been closed for renovations since late 2018 and began welcoming in members of the University’s English department on July 6.

“I am looking forward to us having our own space where we can build that sense of community more, as well as having nice spaces for us to meet and hangout,” said Ethan Voss, an incoming fourth-year English major and the president of the Fellowship of Undergraduate Students in English at the University. “Just having all of us in one centralized location, I think, will be really beneficial.”

In addition to the English department, Pillsbury Hall will be home to the creative writing program and the new Liberal Arts Engagement Hub.

The Liberal Arts Engagement Hub will be located on the ground level of the building and is a space where “members of the University will become the students of the public, educated by and partnering with external community members around critical topics of shared interest,” making it unique to the University and rare among national universities, according to the building’s official renovation website.

Dr. Andrew Elfenbein is a professor and chair of the English department. Elfenbein said he is most looking forward to working in a building with a functional heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The English department currently shares Lind Hall — a building without a central air conditioning system — with the College of Science and Engineering.

Dr. Joe Moses, a senior lecturer in the Department of Writing Studies, spent time in Lind Hall as a graduate student. He said that many teachers had air conditioning units installed in classrooms and offices, but that posed more dilemmas.

“It was often hard and then eventually they put in air conditioners, but they were so loud that you had to sort of shout over them. So that was a little bit tough,” Moses said. “For a while there was a lot of lawnkeeping and landscaping going on. So you would leave the windows open to keep cool, but then there would be a lawn mower going.”

Voss said that leaving the windows open to keep classrooms cool would sometimes allow flying visitors into the spaces.

“The main thing I hated about [Lind Hall] was the horrible bees problem. The bees lived in the vines on the side of the building, and since there was no air conditioning in the building, people would open the windows and be forced to dodge wasps while trying to learn, which is terrifying,” Voss said.

The renovation of Pillsbury Hall was made possible in part by a bill passed in the Minnesota Legislature and signed by former Gov. Mark Dayton in 2018.

The capital projects bill allocated $24 million to the University to complete the renovation, and the College of Liberal Arts and donations provided the remaining $12 million.

Securing the money was crucial for the renovation because the longer a building sits vacant, the worse its systems and condition becomes, Elfenbein told the Minnesota Daily in early 2017.

The chair and directors of both the English department and creative writing program were involved in the renovation design for the building, Elfenbein added.

“Other faculty and graduate students were also consulted about specific furniture and design issues,” Elfenbein said. “The University offered a furniture fair at which all who were interested could try out different options for furniture.”

The building’s attic has been converted from a storage space to one that will be used for classes and events, including creative performances.

“I think it is going to be great for English and I think that it is particularly great for the creative writing program,” said Kim Todd, a professor in the English department. “We have all of these wonderful invited speakers and visiting writers, and I think it is going to be great to have them in one building with us. It is really going to help create a sense of community.”

Voss said he is looking forward to having the department in one easily accessible location where students and faculty can “bounce ideas off one another and work constructively.”

“I think a vibrant new addition will really improve the work that we are doing,” Voss said. “It will give us that chance to focus on what it is to study English.”

James Schaak contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this story’s photo caption misstated when Pillsbury Hall was built. It is the second oldest-standing building on campus