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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Nelson Hall Renovation Nears Completion
$1.58M Project to be finished by August: art, mass communications faculty welcome improvements.

by Jon Swedien
January 31, 2006

The improvements are numerous.

Nelson Hall, which houses the Art Department and the Mass Communications faculty, was built in 1962. It is one of the oldest buildings on campus. The improvements include: New heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, as well as a fire sprinkler system, removal of asbestos, new communication systems, a paint job, new lights, new carpet, new windows, a space for a new digital darkroom and a new bistro area for students.

The project was headed by Brad Heilman. Heilman says the project began years ago. The project had to first go through a design stage after the proper funds were allocated and then the project had to go on a waiting list to receive the funds.

“It’s quite a process,” said Heilman. Once on the list, the project had to compete with others from the other institutions in the state. When the project was approved, it was given $1,580,000.

“Got a lot for not a lot of money” said Jim Johnson, head of the MSU art department. “An awful lot of improvement for a small fund.”

The improvements ranged from things that improved the safety of the building, to making the space more functional as a learning environment, to just becoming more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable.

The ventilation improvements were a big issue for the art department where it was a potentially hazardous issue because it houses paint and other potentially dangerous chemicals.

Along with the new ventilation system, a new air-conditioning system was installed. Previously, only the central offices had air-conditioning. The outer offices were left to deal with the heat. One office located in the corner of the mass communications section was particularly hot. Mass communications professor Marshel Rossow now occupies the office and before him, department chairperson Chuck Lewis occupied the room.

Rossow said he once measured the temperature of the room and recorded a floor temperature of 114 degrees and an eye-level temperature of 100 degrees.

“They just roasted,” said mass communications professor Ellen Mrja about her colleagues in the corner office.

One of the improvements talked about most frequently was the new white paint.

“It was a 1970’s color scheme,” Rossow said, “With green, red, blue, yellow.”

“A very 1970’s thing going on,” said art professor Gina Wenger.

The new white paint job allows the faculty to feel better about their jobs compared to the “shabby” look the building had before, according to Johnson.

During the remodeling, two new components were added to the project. The first was the addition of a completely new digital darkroom for the mass communications department. Heilman said that Academic Computer Center director Wayne Sharp helped in the addition and with fundraising. The new digital darkroom will be a part of the ACC, but the mass communications department will have first opportunity to schedule time. In the basement of Nelson Hall, the existing darkroom was extended and supplemented with a small digital center.

The second was the addition of a bistro to the floor level of the building. The area will be a place for students to do homework or lounge, furnished with chairs, booths and tables for students. There will also be access to wireless Internet. Johnson said there are also plans to bring in 50-inch plasma screen TVs that will display digital works created by students. Johnson said that he would also like to see a food cart brought to the area to accommodate students.

As of now, the bistro is waiting for the furniture to be delivered. According to Heilman, there is a delay with the furniture because the company that supplies the furniture was bought out by another company.

There was also a delay which set back the delivery of the windows a month.

“They pushed hard and did a good job,” said Rossow of the efforts on the project so far.

“I love the huge window,” said McConnell of the new window in her office — especially compared to her old one that leaked.

Although the renovation isn’t complete and won’t be until next August, the faculty of the art and mass communications departments are back in Nelson Hall. Last semester, the art faculty stayed in the Gallery.

There were nine faculty members working in the gallery, according to new drawing professor Liz Miller. Miller said the time in Conklin Gallery was sometimes crowded but the faculty managed since many of them were new and not yet rooted.

The mass communications faculty was different. The five members of the faculty and their secretary were located in PA 104 last semester.

“It was an interesting experience,” said Rossow. “More togetherness than any of us needed.”

“You have to pretend that you can’t hear other people’s phone calls or conversations,” Mrja said about the privacy of the shared office.

The most frequently mentioned topic about the time in PA 104 by the mass communications staff was Rossow’s makeshift door. His door, which now sits in his renovated office in Nelson Hall, resembles that of an outhouse door with a black crescent moon and a picture of the outhouse from where the door had supposedly come from — although Rossow said that was just part of the gag.

One person who has not moved back into Nelson Hall is Wenger. The dust that has been kicked up because of the renovations has bothered her physically, as has it some students. Heilman said that in a project like this, the biggest goal is to make sure the building doesn’t pose any health risks.

Along these lines, new sprinklers have been installed. According to Johnson, 10 to 15 years ago, the third floor was set on fire by an arsonist. After that, the floor was stripped of asbestos and remodeled. So now, all that is necessary on that floor is a new paint job and similar aesthetic improvements.

Some of the art classrooms have also been improved. Previously, the rooms were built to slope down toward the front of the class. Later, as a temporary-solution-turned-long-term, they were made into a flat floor using wood. Problems, however, led to one student stepping through the floor, according to Johnson. Those rooms’ floors have now been filled with cement and have been leveled.

Further renovations will be undertaken in the summer, such as the removal of the asbestos from the floor in the second floor computer room. This was put off because of the difficulty of removing the computers from the floor and installing them in time for second semester.