One of the oldest and most recognizable buildings on the Bemidji State University campus is about to be renovated into a state-of-the-art home for BSU’s business and accounting programs.
The Memorial Hall renovation, scheduled to begin this spring, is the keystone in a broader construction project that will radically alter the heart of campus as part of a strategic effort to centralize academic offerings and shift student services to a part of campus that better suits BSU’s resident students.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed the state’s $846 million bonding bill into law on May 20. That bill included $13.79 million for the project, which was third on the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system’s priority list heading into the legislative session.
Built in 1940, Memorial Hall is the fifth-oldest permanent building on the BSU campus and has never received major renovation. Its historic front lobby will be retained, but the center of the building that is now a basketball court with built-in bleachers on two sides will be converted into classroom space.
The lower floor of Memorial Hall will be used for faculty offices. Offices for the dean of the College of Business, Technology and Communication will be on the top floor.
“Business and accounting are two of our larger programs, and they’re currently located inside an old food service building,” said Bill Maki, Bemidji State’s vice president of finance and administration. “The classrooms are oddly shaped, they don’t have much flexibility with their space, and it certainly doesn’t have the image you would want to portray for a modern school of business.”
New quarters, new learning styles
The project will bring a business and corporate feel to the facilities for those programs, said Dr. Shawn Strong, dean of BSU’s College of Business, Technology and Communication.
“We really don’t have facilities that we can recruit to,” Strong said of the current home for the two programs in Decker Hall. “This should greatly assist our efforts to recruit high-quality students to our residential campus.”
Strong said the newly refurbished building would help move the program beyond its current focus on traditional lecture courses and emphasize group work and intensive use of technology by students in an active-learning environment.
“Active learning is where higher ed is headed,” Strong said. “The small-group settings will support problem solving in the classroom. The ultimate goal of active learning is to build students’ critical thinking skills, and these small-group settings will support problem solving in our classrooms.”
Maki said the accompanying demolition of Sanford Hall, built in 1920, will provide greater emphasis on the Memorial Hall entrance and make that building a more striking front door to the campus when approaching on 15th Street.
Consolidating student services
Decker Hall, which lies between the Birch and Linden residence halls, was renovated from its previous role as a dining hall in order to house the BSU business and accounting programs. After those programs move to their new home in Memorial Hall, a reinvigorated Decker Hall will become the new central hub for Career Services, the Academic Success Center, the TRiO outreach programs and other related student service programs, many of which have been in Sanford. The Decker renovation will take place after the academic programs moving into Memorial Hall have relocated during the Spring 2016 semester.
“Health services and residential life are already on that end of campus,” Maki said. “From a long-term planning perspective, it centralizes these services instead of having them located in various buildings on campus.”
In a separate project, renovation is now underway on the first two floors of Bensen Hall to create a consolidated new home for the Bemidji School of Nursing. Faculty from the nursing programs at both BSU and Northwest Technical College will be coming together in one location, and the nursing lab that has been located in the basement of Memorial Hall will move into what is now the Talley Gallery. The gallery will be relocated to Bridgeman Hall.
Maki said this multi-stage project helps fulfill goals from BSU’s Master Facilities Plan to ensure programs have a strong physical identity.
“We are lacking that with some programs because they are scattered across various spots on campus or are in locations where they are not as visible as they could be,” Maki said. “Adding this component will make sure nursing has that strong physical identity.”
The Memorial/Sanford/Decker project also provides funding to design and plan a future demolition of Hagg-Sauer Hall. BSU hopes to pursue capital funding to replace Hagg-Sauer Hall beginning in 2016.