Where Is My Class...?

by Debra Johnson, Published September 01, 2010

The renovation of Eastern Michigan's largest and busiest academic building tacks an added challenge onto that traditional, semester-opening question, sending students and faculty members into a variety of new locations as they begin the fall term.

The Geddes Town Hall School (also known as the one-room schoolhouse) in the center of campus will host selected classes from the College of Education.

It's called "Swing Space," a simple term for an elaborate process that, among other tasks, identifies offices and classrooms around campus for the 340 staff and faculty members displaced by more than a year of construction on the Pray-Harrold building.  

That's not all. Pray-Harrold by itself would have been a huge scheduling challenge. But this fall, Eastern also is turning the main classroom floor of Mark Jefferson into a construction zone.  

The combined projects have removed 21 percent of Eastern's general use classrooms from the University's classroom portfolio, forcing administrators to find new spaces for 40 percent of EMU's general lecture course sections. It's short-term inconvenience for the long-term gain of improving aspects such as Pray-Harrold's poor heating and cooling, and its outdated academic and commons areas.

"A Nice Change"

The Swing Space process first sought to fully use existing academic space, and then to pinpoint potentially usable rooms in other campus buildings. The result is classes in a variety of new and intriguing locations, some of which have been underutilized in recent years, said Wade Tornquist, an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences who helped oversee the process.

Jill Dieterle, a professor in the department of history and philosophy, will teach classes in the Fletcher Building and in the Commons Room of the Village apartment complex.

"I think it will be a nice change," Dieterle said. "Pray-Harrold was not ideal.  I'm looking forward to being outside between classes, to being in a different part of the campus, and to teaching in new spaces."

The variety of new, distinct classroom locations includes:

Renovated spaces in McKenny Hall, which formerly served as Eastern's student union before the Student Center opened in November 2006. Most notably, the old bowling alley area in the basement has been turned into space for seven classrooms and other associated rooms. The former main dining room area on the first floor will become a student lounge, and an Eagle Café coffee shop will be added across the hall.

"This will be a really nice space," Tornquist said. "It will be an exciting change. We'll be using the building much better than we have in recent years."

Other Buildings, Repurposed

Halle Library, a centerpiece of Swing Space along with McKenny Hall, will offer at least 10 rooms as classroom space, along with the basement auditorium, which holds 100 people and has been refurbished after some flooding. The Computer Science Department will set up classes in a variety of computer lab rooms in the basement, where IT is also being housed, and the distinctive Carillon Room on the third floor will be used for supplemental instruction.

Welch Hall, a former student teacher training facility that now houses a variety of administrators, along with the Regents' meeting room, will return to its years-ago status as a classroom facility. Classes will meet in Room 205, a frequent site of executive meetings and press conferences over the years. The Regents' meeting room, which allows for more informal seating, will be used for supplemental instruction, providing an unusual but functional site for student tutors to help their peers with class work in informal sessions. The Lake House by the ponds also will be opened up for supplemental instruction.

The historic, Geddes Town Hall School (one-room schoolhouse), located in the center of campus, will house several classes from the College of Education, which made a special request to use the building. The building doesn't have good wireless reception, so Tornquist has been careful about making assignments there when there are other options.

"It's a fun building - where it all started," Tornquist said.

And, yes, there is a bathroom in the building.

Student lounges will provide class space in Best, Buell, Downing and Wise residence halls, along with the Village Commons and the First-Year Center, plus a class in a room near Dining Commons One. For the security and comfort of hall residents, classes will only take place after 9:30 a.m. and will adjourn by 5 p.m., Tornquist said.

At Boone Hall, two classrooms will be located in basement rooms formerly used by the department of Institutional Research and Information Management (IRIM).

"That's nice space down there," Tornquist said.

Other new locations for classes will include the Student Center, the College of Business and the old Fletcher School Building, which now houses the Autism Collaborative Center. Even the Physical Plant building, located at the northeast end of campus, will house a class or two in one of its conference rooms.

Most displaced faculty members were relocated to offices in the vacant Hoyt Residence Hall or King Hall, also home of the campus radio station, WEMU, and the campus newspaper, The Eastern Echo. The University did not have to resort to portable classrooms.  

"I love my office in Hoyt," Dieterle said. "I have a window that opens!" 

Relocated departments include African-American studies, computer science, economics, English language and literature, history and philosophy, mathematics, political science, sociology, anthropology and criminology; and women's and gender studies. The College of Arts and Sciences' Dean's Office was relocated from Pray-Harrold to the front of the Bowen Field House.

A Solvable Puzzle

Tornquist likened Swing Space to a challenging, but solvable puzzle. For instance, he noted that two areas of heavy concentration are two classrooms at the top of the Hoyt Tower and three classrooms at the Village Commons, each of which is near the Student Center. In both buildings, he told the automatic scheduler to use the list of departments that have office space in Hoyt and then make as many of their course assignments as possible in those five classrooms.

"I knew those instructors would appreciate the short walk to the classrooms, and I knew faculty from the main part of campus would appreciate not having to walk to the northwest corner of campus," Tornquist said.

Others who also played crucial roles in the Swing Space process were the Physical Plant's Sean Braden, who oversaw the initial space availability study; Bette Warren, associate vice president for academic programming; Associate Provost Robert Neely, Wanda Monks, senior secretary in the College of Arts and Sciences; Susan Procter of IT, Sherry Winterson of the registrar's office; and Tom Mitchell, a doctoral student from the College of Technology.

Winterson oversees the Banner System that allows faculty to register their classes at preferred times, while Procter provides technical support for the Resource 25 room scheduling software program that determines where classes will be located through a computer algorithm.

"The process only works when the two data bases "talk" together, Tornquist said.   "Sherry and Sue are the people who have been making sure the communication happens."

Construction plans call for faculty to move back into Pray-Harrold in fall 2011, or by the end of that fall at the latest, Tornquist said.  

Classes begin for fall term Wednesday, Sept. 8, a date Tornquist has looked forward to for some time.

"It will be good to have fall semester scheduling behind us," he said. "Then, we'll begin work on winter semester."

Further details on Swing Space can be found at the website for the College of Arts and Sciences at www.emich.edu/cas. The site includes a list of classroom buildings and pictures of rooms.

More information:


Debra Johnson

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