October 12, 2011

Amott works to revive ‘dead elephant’

Efforts to reestablish Alumni Hall as a functional part of campus have been put into motion by President Teresa Amott. The restoration of Alumni Hall represents one of four priorities outlined in Amott’s speech during the Opening Convocation Ceremony, as well as the first step in a series of on-campus building renovations.

In her convocation speech, Amott pledged to focus her efforts in part on the restoration of Alumni Hall, a building that has been unused and unmaintained for approximately 30 years. Alumni Hall’s current condition makes it unusable, but it is not the only building on campus in need of repairs.

Alumni Hall is unique to the extent to which it is in disrepair, according to Amott.

“[Alumni Hall] languishes like a dead elephant on the campus,” Amott recalled an alumnus to have said.

“It’s an unfulfilled potential”

Amott addressed the reasoning behind the decision to focus on Alumni Hall in terms of spacing.

“It’s empty, and it has this certain quality. It’s an unfulfilled potential,” Amott said. “There are lots of buildings that might benefit from renovation, from a more contemporary sense of design, or more contemporary classrooms. All of these things grant more pedagogical currency.”

However, renovating classrooms no longer simply pertains to replacing the equipment and furniture. Evolution in the way classes are taught make classroom updates more difficult.

“In the old days we lined chairs up in rows and somebody stood at the front and lectured. Well when you redesign classrooms now, you also renovate classrooms. You look for flexible seating, you look for opportunities to build technology into the building,” Amott said.

The rejuvenation of Alumni Hall not only renovates campus infrastructure but also opens up new, previously unused, space that can facilitate organization. The division of administrative offices between Old Main and the Ford Center for Fine Arts is one issue that will be resolved with the renovations.

“My point is that there are many campus buildings, on this campus as on any campus, that could benefit from renovation,” Amott said. “But this one is empty and unused, so all the square footage is waiting to be actualized, waiting to be revitalized. So it’s more than just renovation of an existing building, it’s really bringing back to life a building that is essentially dead.”

The “gateway” to Knox

Amott said it is certain that the admission and financial aid offices will be moved to Alumni Hall, but bringing the admissions office into any building carries certain requirements. As it is often the first building a prospective student will see, the admissions office will set the tone for the rest of the visit.

“One, you need to have life in the building. That is, you don’t want to have your admissions office next to a big empty dark space,” Amott said. “You need student traffic in the building so that visitors to the campus who come as prospective students have an immediate experiential feel for the campus, for the life of the campus.”

Any possible additions to Alumni Hall, Amott said, must then contribute to the generation of student traffic and work in harmony with the vision of appealing to prospective students and visitors.

“Some possibilities [for moving offices to Alumni Hall] would be the career services center so you get your entry point and your exit point, there’s a kind of nice symmetry there. You come in through admissions, you go out through career services,” Amott said.

She mentioned the Center for Research and Advanced Studies as another possibility, and she said the choices will be made so that we can “somehow showcase our signature programs.”

Alumni Hall visitor’s center

Amott said Alumni Hall is unique in that it is truly a community building. A key feature of the new Alumni Hall will be a visitor’s center funded through federal and state sources. The visitor’s center will serve as a type of museum about Knox College and the Galesburg area, acting as an expansion of the displays at Old Main.

“We have received some federal funding for a visitor’s center to showcase the history of Galesburg and the college,” Amott said. “Things like the Lincoln-Douglas debates, like Carl Sandburg growing up here, like the railroad history in the town could all be showcased in the exhibits that would be in the visitor’s center.”

Designing for a “wow factor”

The design of the building is not yet set, according to Amott, but some features have been discussed, including a small lecture space and informal student space.

“The interior of the building has to have what we’re calling a ‘wow factor.’ If it’s admissions, you want to come in and see something that is architecturally stunning,” Amott said. “I’m not an architect, but I’m imaging a kind of two story atrium space. You know, big, lofty, open, airy natural light space that when you walk in, you look up and say ‘Wow.’”

Is the price right?

Amott and the Alumni Hall Task Force are still in the process of hiring an architect, who will draw up plans and give a cost estimate. Past efforts concerning the renovations have been less than successful, due in part to the previous $10 million estimate.

“Fundraising is always an inexact science. I’m not sure that I would say that anything went wrong; we just didn’t at that moment have the right set of donors,” Amott said. “There are competing priorities too. This is an institution — and I agree with this — that will always want to devote a huge amount of its fundraising energies to scholarships for students.

“So during that period of time that we didn’t raise money for Alumni Hall, we did get some very nice gifts for scholarships, and we got some very nice gifts to help support faculty,” Amott said. “So it’s not that we didn’t do a good job of fundraising; we just had a different set of priorities. We’ve reached the point now where it feels to me that the community wants that building to be built.”

Amott has stated that the building will be renovated through donations and gifts, and that she will not support the use of the endowment or the taking out of a loan.

“The larger economic environment is one in which it may not be prudent to borrow; it might be better to just keep the pressure on for gifts. The endowment is a key aspect of scholarship funding so I would be very reluctant to using it for the renovation,” Amott said.

Renovating sustainably

Amott said the impact of the renovation on the environment should be as minimal as possible.

“The building should be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, the building should speak to our commitment to sustainability. We are a campus that is committed to that, and we should have a LEED building on our campus,” Amott said.

The renovation of Alumni Hall is just the start, Amott said, citing many competing needs on campus. Amott is aware of the needs of the campus and has no intention on letting any slip through the cracks.

“The minute I finish with Alumni Hall, I’ll move right on to the next building,” Amott said.

Julian Boireau
Julian Boireau is a senior majoring in international relations and minoring in French. This is his fourth year working for TKS, having served as co-news editor during his sophomore and junior years. He has been involved in journalism for seven years, serving as opinions editor of the newspaper and editor-in-chief of the literary magazine at Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles, California. In September 2012, Julian received press credentials to attend the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, where he reported on remarks by President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He is also the recipient of back-to-back first place awards from the Illinois College Press Association for front page layout.

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