Dr. Kim Pamplin, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said he is excited to see how the new Halbert-Walling Research Center and the Onstead Center buildings will enrich his students.
“We’re really looking forward to some newer space, some prettier space and some more functional space,” Pamplin said.
He is excited to use the innovative tools provided by the labs in the new buildings, he said.
“We have been working toward this for a long, long time,” Pamplin said. “We do a great job with the facilities that we have, but we feel like there are some limitations with the current facility that we can’t get past until we have some new facilities.”
Despite Pamplin’s excitement, a few aspects of the building plans still worried him.
“We will be limited by the space,” Pamplin said. “Whether that’s enough space to accommodate all the students or not, I don’t know.”
This fear, among others, circled the minds of many of the faculty until a change in the building logistics was made to appease their worries.
While the $55 million being invested into the new buildings is absolute, how that money is being spent is still unclear. Recently, a revision was made to the building plans that addresses concerns of many of the faculty members regarding the space and use of the new buildings.
Concerns emerged while discussing the construction of the Halbert-Walling Research Center and Onstead Center that included space distribution, classroom logistics and the allowance of growth within the buildings. Changes have been made in an attempt to resolve these concerns, as well as consolidate departments.
The initial plan for the new buildings was to house all the residents from Chambers Hall, as well as the science and math departments, in the new Onstead building.
But Dr. Robert Rhodes, provost, said this plan was faulty.
“The challenge with that was it worked space-wise, but it was tight for everybody,” Rhodes said.
Now the administration is looking to move the Chambers’ residents to different locations around campus to better accommodate everyone.
Rhodes said the old plan seemed right only for current size of the departments.
“I think the biggest issue, initially, was space,” Rhodes said. “We had very little room for growth in any of the programs.”
Rhodes said it makes more sense for the Department of Language and Literature to move to the Hardin Administration Building because history and political science are housed there already.
“We have some of the humanities that would be there together,” Rhodes said.
The Department of Psychology has a clinic in McKinzie Hall, so moving that department there is also logical, Rhodes said.
“This gives us the opportunity to consolidate some of our disciplines,” Rhodes said.
Dr. Jeff Arrington, associate professor of physics and vice president of student life, is part of a planning committee for the new buildings. He said finding the exact fit for every department was like working a Rubik’s Cube.
“There’s a huge opportunity to make some strategic moves, but all of those are interconnected,” Arrington said.
When constructing the plans for the buildings, Arrington said the first priority was keeping the culture of each department intact and finding a plan that worked for each department.
“Our students and our faculty develop great relationships,” Arrington said. “You don’t want to destroy all that in the process of thinking how we create and use space.”
The new plan attempts not only to consolidate departments, but also to address the concerns of faculty members.
When the plan was to move Chambers’ residents to the Onstead building with the science and math departments, many faculty members expressed worries about having restricted space.
“Between Chambers and Foster, after the renovation and construction, will there be enough new space in those new facilities for those six departments to not just exist, but grow?” Pamplin said.
He said his biggest fear had been turning students away for a lack of space in the Onstead building.
“I don’t want to be in the situation where I have to say ‘Sorry, we can’t teach the students our recruiters have brought in because we don’t have enough space in these brand new buildings we just got through building,'” Pamplin said.
However, Pamplin said the new revision to the plan has eased his fears.
“I haven’t seen any specifics post this revision, but I can’t imagine that any department that’s in the Onstead Building will have less space,” Pamplin said.
He said while there are still a few issues that worry him about the buildings, like the separation of the labs, which will be in the Halbert-Walling Research Center, the new plan is much closer to what the sciences need.
“I’m very excited,” Pamplin said. “I’m hedging a little bit, but it provides the opportunity to get to a place where we want to be.”
Dr. Gregory Straughn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he agreed the former plans were too tight of a fit for everyone.
Straughn said the new plans for the Onstead Building give the sciences the room they need to grow.
“I’m glad we did it strategically because the sciences needed support,” Straughn said. “We didn’t need to degrade their capacities to grow and to flourish.”
The revision to the building plan also attempts to alleviate faculty members’ fears of the buildings not providing room for growth.
Dr. Tom Lee, professor and chair of the biology department, said he feared the new buildings would limit the growth of the science departments, causing them to turn students away.
Upon hearing about the science and math departments receiving all the room in the Onstead building, Lee said it was a positive development and a step in the right direction.
“I think that the sciences, in order to grow, need additional space, and this will provide that,” Lee said.
A Newfound Confidence
In the end, Pamplin said the new buildings will provide his department and other sciences with the tools they need to make a difference in students’ lives.
“I feel more confident now that we will have the continued support and facilities to have some of our research labs at a level that we’ve been accustomed to,” Pamplin said.
However, he said he is still cautious about making sure every department, Chambers’ residents included, receive the space it needs to grow.
“I don’t want to be in the position of getting the new toys of the party, only if it means somebody else had to give up the last few classrooms that they had in order for us to get something new,” Pamplin said.