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Meredith Hall to be renovated throughout 2022-2023 academic year

Photo by Joshua Bruer | Staff Photographer

When School of Journalism and Mass Communication dean Kathleen Richardson took over her current position, she observed a pressing need for the electronic studios in the basement of Meredith Hall to be renovated. While working on these renovations, it occurred to her that the building itself had not been remodeled since it was originally built. 

The renovation project officially started in 2017 when the SJMC hired an architect. According to Richardson, everything needs to be cleared out of Meredith by the end of May. Remodeling will start during the summer, with major renovations starting closer towards the beginning of the fall semester. The project is on track to be completed by the end of the spring semester in 2023, Richardson said. 

“The project has been evolving,” Richardson said. “The pandemic hit, so with the supply chain issues and other kinds of issues, [those] have also impacted the project. At one point, we thought that the building would only need to be closed for a semester, that all the work could be done within a semester. Now, it turns out that it’s going to have to be closed for the whole academic year.” 

According to Richardson, the construction on Meredith consists of two phases. The first is renovating the current building, and the second is adding an expansion onto the building. Currently, the university has not raised enough money to complete the addition. 

Drake is currently working with the State Historical Preservation Office to make the building eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places, Richardson said. If this application is approved, the university will receive more state funding to renovate the building. If added to the register, Drake will be reimbursed for up to 25% of qualified rehabilitation expenses.

“When I started exploring that, I discovered that the architect who designed the building, Mies van der Rohe, he was a German architect—one of the most famous architects in the world in the 1950s and 60s,” Richardson said. “He designed this building. It’s well-known. Frequently, especially before the pandemic, we would have architectural tours going through the building, and so I knew that if we were going to do any kind of changes to the building, that we had to do it right and be very sensitive to the architectural history of the building.”

There are many aspects of the building that cannot be changed because of their historical significance, according to Richardson. For example, there have been extensive conversations about what to do with the chairs in the lecture halls because they are an original part of the building’s design. 

Many of the renovations will be related to the infrastructure of the building, according to Richardson. In order to be more environmentally friendly, Meredith will be receiving a new heating and cooling system and LED lights. In addition, accessible and gender-neutral bathrooms will be renovated on the main floor. The Bright College space and much of the basement, which was renovated in 2019, will remain the same. A film-viewing room will also be installed in the basement, featuring theater seats purchased from Varsity Theater.  

“To some aspects, you will walk into the building afterwards, and it will look refreshed, but maybe not that different,” Richardson said. 

Professor Sandy Henry will be teaching two sections of video production classes in the fall. Nearby spaces on 25th Street are also being renovated into a temporary TV studio. 

“Obviously, JMC057 is taught in the TV studio, so it’s going to be a completely different environment,” Henry said. “We have literally a space that is being renovated for us over there and really, the equipment that we have is all fully transferable. So all we have to do is pack it up, and we just move it from one place to another and plug it back in, and we should be, fingers crossed, good to go. It’ll be a smaller space than what we have now, but it’s still got plenty of room for us to do the types of things that we need to be able to do.”

All of the SJMC professors, as well as student publications, will also be temporarily relocated to buildings on 25th Street, Richardson said. During renovations, one of Meredith’s computer labs will be moved into the Fine Arts Center, according to Henry. The other will be located in the former Great Clips on 25th Street. 

The Innovation Studio, which is currently located in Meredith, will be transitioning to a mobile format for the following academic year. For example, they have hosted pop-up events in Olmsted, Cowles Library and outdoors in the past. 

“For next year, we were kind of offered some possible locations we could be in, but we’re just going to go back to what we originally did, which are just pop-up events,” professor Chris Snider said. “So we’re going to take a year of just doing events in other places on campus, kind of the idea that we’ll come to you, you don’t have to come to us, for the semester. It’ll be fun to get back to our roots.”

Richardson is retiring at the end of the spring semester. She will be replaced by Catherine Staub, who has begun to attend transition meetings with Richardson and participate in meetings with the architect. 

“One of the projects that I would like to do in retirement is continue to document the renovations for the Drake Archives, so I will be around in case there’s any questions or anything,” Richardson said. “Certainly the main responsibility for the transition from Meredith Hall over to 25th Street and then overseeing the renovation of the building and then to transition back into the building will be [Staub’s] responsibility.”

There are other departments located in Meredith. During renovations, the John Dee Bright College will be moved to the Olmsted Center, and Arts and Sciences departments located in Meredith will be relocated to Howard Hall. 

“It’s not just people in journalism,” Henry said. “Every unit on campus uses this building for classes, so everybody is going to kind of be going, ‘What do we do without Meredith Hall?’ but it’ll be fine. Just check the schedule, ask people where they’re going to be, and it’ll all be good.”

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