University tackles growing population, needs with expansion

Posted on Feb 7 2017 - 8:01am by Jennifer Froning

The university hired three architectural firms to renovate and expand Farley Hall and Connor Hall under the stress of a growing student body.

Farley Hall houses the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Connor Hall houses accountancy and business. The Meek school has seen a 50 percent increase in students in the last seven years overall, and accounting and business have grown about 27 percent, said Larry Sparks, vice chancellor for administration and finance.

“You sort of have to read the tea leaves if you will, estimate what will happen with your student population, with growth, therefore with need,” Sparks said. “With these facilities, we have the capacity to have a little more growth.”

Facilities Planning is currently working on more than 150 construction projects on campus.

“We’re working on many, many buildings. These are important ones. I would say that there aren’t many buildings on campus that aren’t important … because everyone is doing valuable work,” Ian Banner, director of facilities planning and university architect, said. “The question is trying to keep up with everybody and accommodating everyone’s needs as quickly as we possibly can. That’s always been our challenge.”

Sparks said the school administrators asked the Board of Trustees to hire architects for both of the projects and approved them to spend $1 million. The board put out requests for qualified firms in the architectural and design community, and a separate committee reviewed those who responded. The committee, which is composed of representatives from facilities planning, journalism, accountancy and business, chose the firm best qualified for each project individually.

The committee chose Jackson firm JH & H in a joint venture with Minneapolis firm Perkins & Will to lead the business and accountancy expansion. The architects of the Farley project are Barlow, Eddy, Jenkins, also from Jackson.

The programming stage of this project involves finding out what is needed for the expansions and then prioritizing the needs and wants of the three schools. The architectural firms will use their previous experience working with similar buildings of their size and complexity to arrive at a design for the spaces needed, balanced with cost.

“Sometimes that number takes our breath away, and we go, ‘That’s a little bit more than we thought,’” Banner said. “Then all of us – the users, the architects, the facilities planning members – we then have to get serious about what are the needs and what are the wants. We have to cut things back and decide how much money we have and how much space can we get with that amount of money.”

After plans are finalized, the architectural firms will spend one year designing their respective expansions. Once a design is settled on, the project will take roughly 18 months to complete construction.

The facilities planning department and the architectural firms have to decide where the best place to put an addition would be without making it look like they just stuck an addition on a beautifully historic building. They have to consider if there are roads that have to be moved or what the addition would look like.

“These two buildings are large and complex,” Banner said. “It’s going to take a lot of thought to come up with a meaningful solution to the problem.”

Banner said the architects’ goal is to keep these buildings aesthetically pleasing and make the addition look like it was part of the existing building. They do not want an addition that looks too small or too overbearing. He said these firms want to make the best use of the land and space as they can.

Once a design has been finalized and approved by the chancellor, provost and Vice Chancellor Sparks, the university will contact potential donors, alumni and friends to help fund these projects. Administrators need to know the total dollar value and have a design to show before they can start fundraising.

Facilities planning, the architects and administration share their designs throughout this process. Banner said the team wants to make sure they don’t surprise people, including the students, with how the buildings will look. They will post pictures of the finished design during construction so students are aware of how the finished addition will look.

Banner said the university understands every project undertaken is going to cause some degree of inconvenience in day-to-day operations, so there has to be careful planning as to how many buildings can be worked on simultaneously.

“We can’t build big buildings without anybody noticing,” Banner said. “We have to remember that life goes on. Teaching occurs, learning occurs, and that’s why we do what we do, to support that. Sometimes as we progress, as we build … we can actually inconvenience those we are trying to help. That’s the nature of construction, unfortunately.”