Centennial Hall's new technology, updated learning spaces on cutting edge
When students returned to UW-Eau Claire for the start of spring semester Jan. 21, they witnessed something not seen on campus in more than three decades.
Centennial Hall, UW-Eau Claire's newest academic building, was up and running and fully operational after a nearly two-year period of construction in the central campus mall area. The $44.5 million building, located between Schneider Hall and Zorn Arena, is the first new building to be entirely funded with state tax dollars on the UW-Eau Claire campus since 1982.
The approximately 182,000-gross-square-foot building houses the university's College of Education and Human Sciences administrative units; significant new classroom space for use by the entire campus; the departments of education studies, special education, English and languages; and select student support services.
Planning for space needs
The Centennial Hall project was conceived in 2001 as a result of an intensive study led by UW-Eau Claire's facilities planning unit and involving UW System and all UW-Eau Claire departments from academic and student affairs, said Ricardo Gonzales, UW-Eau Claire director of facilities planning.
"Centennial Hall had been the No. 1 priority for the campus in several biennial budget submissions to UW System," said Gonzales, who wrote the original project request document to UW System. "Its completion was essential to free up space in many existing buildings and to bring together many student affairs and academic affairs departments that had been separated for several years. The new building allows for greater operational efficiencies and greater collaboration."
UW-Eau Claire's teacher education programs will see tremendous improvements in facilities, equipment, and technology as a result of moving to the new building from the Brewer Hall/Campus School complex and the Human Sciences and Services building, said Gail Scukanec, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences.
"The science lab will provide flexibility we haven't seen before," Scukanec said.
The room is set up with 30 seats in the middle of the room for non-lab work and lecture, and lab stations around the perimeter where 30 students can work. The lab is equipped with four interactive Smart Boards, a fume hood, and gas and water at all stations.
"Students may find similarly equipped labs and classrooms when they begin their teaching careers," Scukanec said. "Because this technology and flexibility already exist in some schools, we want to prepare students going into those schools and be ahead of the game in preparing students for schools without such equipment."
Scukanec said the college also has gained a resource room for teacher education, which can be used as a small classroom or for group work. The early childhood education room has equipment typically used in a classroom for younger children, including a sink for washing toys. The technology lab gives students the tools they need to work on projects involving technology, including the submission of videos of their student teaching, which is required of all new teachers by the state.
Connections and collaboration
One of the huge advantages of bringing the education studies and special education departments together is the opportunity it offers for collaboration, Scukanec said.
"Such collaboration will better prepare all new graduates of our teacher education program to serve every child," she said.
With the education departments in the same building for the first time in 30 years, faculty will have more opportunities for shared discussions and activities, said Rose Battalio, chair of the special education department and acting chair of education studies.
"The close proximity of the departments should support more formal and informal types of collaboration, collaboration that happens in the public schools," Battalio said. "It's a good feeling to be in the same hallway. In public schools, teachers work together and solve problems together for the benefit of students. I really think we can do that better now that we're together."
Battalio also said the technology available in Centennial Hall allows the education programs to be more in line with many public school districts.
"New technologies and new teaching spaces will allow us to update, change, enrich and enhance our teaching and course formats," she said.
The integration of new technology in the building is preparing students for a teaching environment that is rapidly embracing technology for learning purposes, said senior art education major Devon Calvert.
"The state-of-the-art equipment will keep students on the cusp of the up-and-coming," Calvert said. "All too often I have seen great technology in K-12 classrooms with educators who don't know how to use it. Education students will now be on the cutting edge of this equipment."
Senior special education major Emily Nesbitt said she appreciates the collaborative possibilities Centennial Hall provides.
"It's very evident that Centennial Hall has had students in mind every step of the way," Nesbitt said. "We now have an opportunity to collaborate as a college and grow as professionals together."
Scukanec, who served as building committee chair during the construction project, said determining which departments would be housed in Centennial Hall was based on relationships between units and physical fit.
"Both the languages and English departments have numerous education students, so they were a logical choice," she said. "The new space also allowed some student service units to come together to create the Student Success Center — Services for Students with Disabilities, Academic Skills Center, Math Lab and Center for Writing Excellence. Also, with the university's commitment to inclusive education, we wanted the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Blugold Beginnings to have a more prominent space on campus, so they were located on the first floor of the building."
Creating the ideal learning environment
Many of the classrooms in Centennial Hall are equipped with Smart Boards and flat screens and have technology to support iPads and other electronic devices — providing students with a state-of-the-art experience, Scukanec said. The building also features collaborative learning spaces, which are located in the windowed corners of the building and in some smaller spaces;several group work rooms with computer hookups;and a cyber café (Einstein Bros. Bagels). The building's three active learning classrooms have flat panels, interactive whiteboards and semicircular desk units where students can work on projects together.
Among the building's impressive features are its windows and skylights, said Chris Hessel, UW-Eau Claire engineering specialist and university project manager.
"The intentional design of the building was to maximize natural light," Hessel said. "The large skylights, the tall windows making up 30 percent of the building's exterior and the transom windows above office and classroom doors allow a lot of natural light into the building, creating a bright, open environment for its users."
One of Centennial Hall's more beautiful features is the pattern etched into the large glass windows on the building's southwest corner, Scukanec said.
"This architectural integrated artwork is a leaf pattern, a symbol for life in some cultures, including the Hmong culture," she said.
Senior early childhood special education major Marissa Kinjerski said open spaces and natural lighting are some of Centennial Hall's most positive attributes, adding to the learning experience.
"Overall, it has a bright, open and updated atmosphere," Kinjerski said. "The large windows make me feel like I'm in a natural environment in the classrooms as well as in the study areas."
English department chair Carmen Manning agrees that Centennial Hall provides students with an open, welcoming environment.
"My favorite part of Centennial Hall is all of the spaces for students to hang out," Manning said. "There are chairs and tables in all sorts of nooks and crannies that allow students to sit and read and work and socialize with one another. It creates a great vibe in the building to have so many students here working."
Manning said she appreciates the access the English department has to the building's state-of-the-art technology, including a film room and active learning classroom.
"These rooms provide new and innovative opportunities for teaching and learning in this new space," she said. "I also see benefit in the fact that all faculty and staff in the English department are now on the same floor. (The department was split between three floors in Hibbard Hall.) Being together provides a greater sense of community and allows for more collaboration."
Senior English major Clare Koopmans said she is especially impressed with two spaces in Centennial Hall.
"The Kate Gill Library in the English department and the Roma Hoff Instructional Resource Center in the languages department were very popular when they were located in Hibbard Hall," Koopmans said. "I was worried that a new space would minimize the familiarity and level of comfort I felt when studying in them. I'm happy to say that both spaces have kept their welcoming feel."
Koopmans also said the building's structure and design have resulted in innovative learning spaces and technology, "which make presenting projects in class easier and more fun."
Languages department chair Carter Smith said that although most language classes are still taught in Hibbard or Schneider halls, the language lab (Roma Hoff Instructional Resource Center) in Centennial Hall is an improvement over the previous one.
"Our new language lab is even more state-of-the-art than the one we had in Hibbard Hall, and I believe it is getting more use by more instructors," Smith said.
Smith also said the department's move to Centennial Hall brings languages faculty and staff together on one floor and includes meeting spaces for larger groups, which were not available in Hibbard Hall.
The cyber café is proving to be a hit with students from across campus.
"Having Einstein Bagels in Centennial is really nice," said senior English and communication major Erin Stevens. "Sometimes Davies Center is a bit crowded for group meetings, and the library is sometimes too quiet. Einstein offers an alternative space that's conducive to studying and working on group projects."
Form and functionality
The physical beauty of Centennial Hall — inside and out — also is getting rave reviews from students and faculty alike.
"My overall impression of Centennial Hall is that it rocks," said senior English major Rebekah Morrisson. "The inside is as gorgeous as the outside, and I haven't stopped admiring the natural light found in so many of the interior rooms, something I've heard has helped with lighting costs. The tall ceilings, curvy hallways and the building being 30 percent windows collectively add to the modernness of the building and the overwhelmingly positive response I've heard from other students."
The process of allocating space in Centennial Hall began about eight years ago with a space needs analysis to examine the then-current and future physical plant needs of each unit, said Michael Wick, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean of graduate studies.
"As part of the building planning process, a more extensive space analysis was performed, including a classroom-demand study," Wick said. "Based on both studies and the desire to co-locate the education departments, the building planning committee, in consultation with the building architects, allocated space within the building."
Wick said Centennial Hall's facilities have allowed more flexibility in assigning priority classrooms, which are allocated to departments based on need and result in the most efficient use of classroom space.
"Prior to Centennial Hall, the assignment of priority classrooms was largely based on historical decisions," Wick said. "With the opportunities provided by Centennial Hall, we revisited these assignments and tried to ensure that every department or program has access to at least one priority room."
Scukanec said she encourages all university departments to take advantage of the building's technology and resources.
"It will be fun to see how Centennial Hall gets used," she said. "Students and faculty from across campus will have access to meeting spaces, classrooms and collaborative learning spaces and will be able to enjoy the flexibility the updated facilities offer. My hope is that every student will have at least one class in the building while they're here and that every room is in use at all times."