The classroom spaces have have much more natural light with the renovations.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state's oldest community college is starting to look more like the newest.
Berkshire Community College is wrapping up renovations to two academic buildings. The $30 million renovations have been under way since the spring 2015.
The renovated Hawthorne Hall was opened on June 1 and construction workers are putting the final touches and equipment is being moved into Melville Hall in anticipation for an opening later this month.
"We're looking late spring or early summer," Director of Facilities David Moran said of the entire project, which includes exterior landscaping and a new connector building.
Both buildings will be open for the start of the next semester and a new connection area and amphitheater space will follow shortly afterward. The renovations to the 1969 buildings were a long time coming, with the state earmarking $21 million for it way back in 2008. In 2012, the funds were released to start it, additional funds were later secured because costs had increased since the first earmark, and construction began almost two years ago.
"The buildings have what architects termed 'good bones,'" Moran said.
Essentially, the concrete buildings were fully gutted down to having them look like parking garages. What's unfolded since then is the creation of energy efficient, much better looking, much more usable, buildings chalked full of technology. And the difference is drastic.
When students entered Hawthorne from one of the 12 entrances before they were greeted with a split-level of stairs going up and stairs going down. Switching from one classroom to the other meant going outside and coming back through another entrance. The classrooms had few windows and no air conditioning. The technology was spread out into various rooms. And the classrooms themselves looked dull with concrete ceilings and walls.
And someone who is mobility impaired had little access.
Now when someone enters the building there is still a staircase going up but instead of running into a classroom, a hallway was created to access multiple rooms. The total number of entrances was cut in half. The classrooms will stay the same size because the length of the hallways was added to the exterior of the building. Vegetation was added to the additional roof to reduce rainwater runoff and improve insulation.
According to BCC's Chief Financial Officer John Law, one goal of the project include adding more natural light — and that is achieved through additional large windows framing the scenic hills.
Other goals include adding color through paint and increasing the technology throughout, from LED lights and sensors to dim during bright days and turn off when nobody is in the room to smart white boards to change the dynamic of teaching and learning.
"Every room was an independent island for technology," BCC President Ellen Kennedy said.
Every room now has Epson smart boards with touch access. The boards work as both traditional whiteboards and projectors on which professors can pull up images, highlight or draw on and manipulate, and it is all connected to allow for emailing and uploading. A few classrooms are arranged with multiple boards for the students to use as they follow along with the instructor.
"I think a lot of our faculty has really taken to that," Moran said.
Such a board is even serving as a wall in a common area for students to use as study space. Additional study spaces were created throughout the building and faculty offices have brand-new equipment and furniture as well.
Each classroom is also consistent, which wasn't the case in the past. Before a class of just eight would occupy a room for 30 because that is where the needed technology was located. Now each room has the same features, allowing easier scheduling of classes.
"With each classroom, we can properly place the classes with the student body," Kennedy said.
Just as important, architects redesigned whole new infrastructure systems.
"Previously the buildings had no air conditioning or fire protection with sprinklers," Moran said.
The bathrooms were completed upgraded with all touchless technology. A total of nine classrooms are on the first floor of each building and the upper floor serves as lab space.
The health science labs in Hawthorne now feature simulators, artificial bodies for nursing or therapist to train on, which are linked to a control room. Above the beds are cameras filming the student's work and from the control room a teacher can speak as the simulators to test the student's responses. The video can then be dissected in a conversation between the student and teacher. Further, all of the nursing programs are now consolidated into one space whereas before it was spread out even among different areas.
The same type of upgrades to appearance, usability, and technology are replicated throughout all of the spaces in both buildings. And all classrooms are equipped with brand new furniture.
In another section of Hawthorne is a new lecture room. What used to be individual small offices has been turned into a lecture hall with stadium-style seating. The room has microphones hanging down and cameras in various place for video conferencing.
"This is a very technology-rich room and area on campus," Moran said.
The microbiology lab is brand new from top to bottom. And Law says the school solicited feedback from students and faculty and incorporated those ideas into the design. An example is utilizing lab space in a way that provides both the area for experiments and seating and white board for lectures.
A new connector space is currently being constructed.
Besides the small bump outs to make room for the hallways in the buildings, the only other new construction is a connection building. There once was no way to pass between the two halls without going outside.
But the new area will be glass enclosed with the ability to have more than 100 people in it. A gas fireplace will add to the decor, vending machines, and new furnishing will create a passable corridor and place for students to gather.
Two new elevators are being added to provide easier mobility.
Outside of that, an outdoor amphitheater space is being construction for performances or lectures.
When Hawthorne was closed for construction, the academics were cramped into Melville. Hawthorne opened in June and all academics moved there. When the students return for the spring semester Melville will be open and classes will be back where they were intended to be.
Melville's renovation is a lot like Hawthorne's with additional collaborative working spaces and new technology throughout. The chemistry lab was outfitted with brand-new hoods for exhausting chemicals during experiments. The safety equipment like the eyewash and emergency showers have been upgraded and made even easier and quicker to use. In the programming classrooms, a new local network has been set up for students to practice on.
"We've added quite a few wireless points," Moran said.
And while the building has a ton of natural light from more windows, the insulation value is actually improving. Moran said the windows that were there had poor R-values and the new glass is significantly better. A total of 1,846 solar panels are on the roof — those were installed previously and the roof was left untouched because it only recently was redone.
"We are looking to be LEED certified as LEED silver," Moran said.
With grants, the school was able to get new pieces of equipment for the engineering, physics, and mechanical labs. The writing center was redesigned and expanded with student space in the middle and professor officers around the exterior to more easily provide help with work.
So far the students who have experienced the new Hawthorne have reported good experiences. Moran said, "the students felt good because they see an investment," and these buildings aren't the only recent improvement the campus has seen. It was in 2012 when it opened the brand new Ralph Hoffmann Environmental Science and Sustainable Energy Center.
The massive renovations weren't just for the student, though.
"We have a lot of community groups that come in and use our space," Law said.
College officials hope there is more work in the pipeline as listed in its master plan. A new parking lot project is in the works as well as the construction of a new turf field.
The college is traveling hopefully along its path to upgrade the entire campus but the future work will have a lot to do with the availability of state funding. But for now, at least a large portion of the campus is looking a whole lot nicer.
northadams.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.