By Kelline Linton, Chief Copy Editor
Professors who work in the Morris Center had a difficult time finding their old offices last fall because the interior renovations to the second and third floor transformed the building into a construction zone. Cables and wires hung from gutted ceilings, concrete floors and half-painted walls resounded with the echoes of saws and nail guns and piles of wooden frames and ladders tripped the unwary.
A local architect and ACU general contractor completed the renovation of the far south end of the Morris Center just in time for the start of the spring semester; they built offices and a large smart classroom on the third floor and an interior design space and the JMC Network Student Media News Lab on the second floor.
The Morris Center undertaking began in January 2001 when the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication faculty began discussing the renovations of its facilities. Two years later, on Sept. 10, 2003, department representatives first talked with an architect. Dr. Cheryl Bacon, chair of the department, and Dr. Susan Lewis, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, met with Jack Harkins, one of the five partners of the Title Luther Partnership Architecture firm in Abilene. They actually began to conceptualize floor plans and a design layout in early 2006.
Harkins, an graying man with a large smile, has worked for Title Luther since 1969 and drew the original Morris Center blueprints in the 1970s; he was the principal in charge of the innovative multimedia newsroom job, which he thought was simple to design.
“They wanted a big open space that was multi-tasking and brought all the media together in one spot,” he said.
The hardest challenge he faced was in splitting the available second floor area between the JMC newsroom and the interior design program in the Art and Design Department.
“He had a very difficult task to find a way to satisfy the competing interests of two programs,” Bacon said. “He was open and creative and came up with a solution that none of us would have imagined.”
He balanced the square footage between the two; satisfying both parties.
Harkins began the construction project by striving to understand the media needs for the space and used the suggestions and comments given by the representatives of the JMC Department.
“We redesigned that space two or three times; it wasn’t something we did once and moved on down the road,” Harkins said.
The department representatives wanted the newsroom designed for more visibility and visitors, generating a need for an outside entrance and stairs, he said.
Without an exterior entrance, visitors and students would walk up the main stairwell and down the hall to find their way to the room or enter through the back entrance by way of the harshly lit concrete stairwell.
“Once we settled on trying to find a way to bring people in through a new entrance, it flip-flopped everything,” he said.
The offices and conference room switched places, an exterior stair was added and a window was removed.
“That became a major issue, trying to get them their own entrance that people could use and come into a nice entry point,” Harkins said.
Another challenge he faced with the project was the broadcast area near the back entrance. The department wanted to shoot video in a space with a low ceiling, so the construction team removed the ceiling, painted it black and added volume.
After finalizing the general design layout, Harkins began the design development where he talked with the department about specific needs like special lighting, cabinetry and case work and the locations of electrical outlets, power outlets for equipment and telecommunications for computers. Once all the specific elements were confirmed, he made construction documents, the detailed drawings used by the general contractor to solicit bids for the actual construction work.
ACU stayed in house for this project, meaning it used its own employee as the general contractor, because the projected costs for renovations exceeded budget by $100,000, and an in-house general contractor would save the university money. The administration chose Eddie McFadden for the role because of his experience and abilities: he headed the construction for the Learning Commons in 2006.
McFadden implemented Title Luther’s architectural plans for the newsroom by organizing and supervising the construction. He managed the construction crews and hired subcontractors to renovate such specifics as the walls, ceiling and electrical systems.
“I was very pleased to have a general contractor in house; I already knew Eddie, and he worked very hard to take care of us,” Bacon said.
McFadden finished a little below budget with a final price tag of more than $1 million, but the hardest challenge he faced was staying on time with the development. Construction began in September of 2007, and the department representatives wanted the project completed by November. He finished the job in December, which was still acceptable because the spring semester had not yet begun, he said. Although McFadden was the project manager, Title Luther remained involved in the renovations.
“We don’t do supervision, but we do observation of the work as it’s being done just to make sure it is being done in compliance with the plans and specifications,” Harkins said.
The firm hired Crim & Bradshaw Engineering in Abilene as the consultant for the mechanical, electrical and plumbing aspects, and Donna Fowler, Title Luther’s interior designer, used her expertise to decorate the transformed areas after McFadden completed the construction aspects.
Fowler initially met with Bacon and Lewis in May 2007 and discussed how the space would be used.
“We talked about what needed to be purchased to go in those rooms to fulfill the occupants’ needs,” she said. “[Bacon] wanted it to be a space that was contemporary in feel like it’s happening now.”
They started with the carpet choice because it had the least amount of options and set the tone and color for the space. Bacon suggested blues, browns and greens for highlights, and they used a natural maple wood finish, light blue, lime green and off whites on the walls. The paint choice had personality, Fowler said.
After they chose the carpet and paints, they focused on furniture selection. Bacon wanted the seating area near the newsroom’s entrance to be slick and fashionable, to set the tone for the space and capture people’s eyes, Fowler said.
“The ultra modern look was a style new to the campus,” McFadden said.
All demolition, design, placement and technology installation for the project was finished more than seven years after the department first started discussing renovations. With construction now complete, visitors can explore the new rooms and watch students use the innovative amenities.