The renovation of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College is complete after more than a year, making the university’s honors program one of the few in the nation with a building this size.
The honors college will dedicate its expanded and renovated sections at 3 p.m. Thursday.
The renovation sought to better the honors students’ experience by enlarging the common areas and creating more study spaces. It doubled the building’s footprint and cost about $6 million. Jim Barksdale, former CEO and president of Netscape and husband of the honors college’s namesake, donated $2 million toward the project. The university gave the other $4 million.
“We’re trying to create public space for our students to have deeper conversations,” Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, the dean of the honors college, said. “The idea then was to eliminate offices and classrooms in that particular Great Room so that students have a time to coalesce.”
Additions to the building include an enlarged kitchen, three open classrooms on the second floor and an enlarged study space in the basement, affectionately known as “the dungeon.”
“I went (to see it) as soon as I came back to school,” junior honors student Drew Hall said. “I was excited to see which parts they left the same and which parts they changed.”
Sullivan-Gonzalez said the new classrooms were designed to keep class sizes small since that is vital to the program’s success.
“A couple of classrooms are sort of small, but that’s one way that the class size won’t grow,” he said. “The walls can’t expand. So, we can’t get more than 15 in a couple classrooms.”
Hall said he loved how the renovation kept all his favorite parts of the old building while adding new useful features.
“I find myself wanting to study there more because the third floor, where I used to study all the time, is still the same,” Hall said. “There’s much more study space, many more tables and just more opportunities for more people to study.”
Sullivan-Gonzalez said the new renovation brought some unique features, as well. He said he loved that the building did not have a modular layout, calling it a “labyrinth of staircases.”
“I love the sort of bizarre nature of the staircases,” he said. “It has a Harry Potter-esque nature to getting lost in the inner corridor. … We’ve combined what looks like two to three different sections. So, you can really get lost. It really feels like a 14th century monastery.”
Starting in August, the honors college will begin displaying artwork in the Great Room. Sullivan-Gonzalez said he is excited for the conversations the artwork is going to spark.
“It will be powerful art,” he said. “There’s no way you’re going to escape conversation with that artwork.”
This article was contributed to The Daily Mississippian by a student from an advanced reporting class.