2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College Columbia University

TC Media Center from the Office of External Affairs

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This Old College: The TC Makeover

Teachers College is more than 100 years old, and the conditions of the buildings reveal its age. As any homeowner knows, some improvements can transform the look of a place and other improvements, though not as visually appealing, are simply functional. Teachers College needs both.

In the last couple of years, architects toured the building, interviewed faculty and staff and came up with plans for upgrading the campus. Scaffolding along the outside walls of Grace Dodge Hall and the sounds of hammers and drills echoing through Russell Courtyard signal that the makeover has begun.

"We are trying to perform the work with minimum disruption and interference to the community," said Vincent Del Bagno, Director of Facilities, Safety and Security. The Grace Dodge Hall repairs include extensive work on the flat roofs and repointing of masonry. "We are also evaluating the possibility of replacing the windows in the building," Del Bagno said. "Once the scaffolding is put up, you want to do everything you possibly can that requires scaffolding and not waste money by doing it a second time." The same work will be done on Russell Hall and Horace Mann Hall. Completion of the exterior work will pave the way for further improvements to the interior of the buildings.

"We are trying to give deference to the aesthetic needs of the property and community," Del Bagno added. "Though the buildings are not landmarks, they are considered to be landmarkable. We don't want to be expedient at the expense of the aesthetics." At a recent town meeting of the College, which touched on facets of the renovation projects, Vice President for Finance and Administration Fred Schnur outlined the plans. "It takes a long time to see the results as we address 20 to 30 years of neglect," he said.

Work has also begun, "behind the scenes" so to speak, on the construction of an access ramp to the main entrance of the College at Main Hall. "Although the ramp is a large construction project, the architects and engineers did a fine job of integrating the ramp assembly with the aesthetics of the building," Del Bagno said. Preliminary work started in December to prepare the foundation, and outside construction is scheduled to begin in the Spring semester.

Architect Paul Broches said that one of the problems they were looking to solve through the design was to make the main entrance more prominent and accessible, especially to the first-time visitor. "It is not clear where the front door is now," he said. "We want to create a strong identity at Main Hall with lighting and a sign that says ‘Teachers College.'" He also said that an apron would extend from the sidewalk out into the street to provide a drop-off point for cabs. However, that is pending approval by the city.

During the time that the work is being done on the ramp, the main entrance will be shut down. The Russell Hall doorway will become the primary entry into the building, with the security desk being temporarily housed nearby. Work will take several months.

While the ramp is being constructed, other changes to Main Hall will be underway to add to its accessibility, security and comfort. What is now 116 Main Hall will become the main entry point and central information center. "The floor will have to be dropped about three feet to make it level with the uppermost step of the main entrance," Del Bagno explained. "We will create a professional reception and information center that will house security officers, visual security monitors, and mapping of the campus for both sighted and visually-impaired visitors." Beyond the new security desk to the right will be steps and another ramp leading to the Main Hall floor level.

Money has also been designated to renovate the student lounge. In a meeting with department chairs, Broches said, "It will be a study lounge with tables for students to work at with a seating area around the hearth. Computer work stations will be on either end of the room." Discussions are still taking place to determine how a food service area will be incorporated into the Main Hall design.

Milbank Chapel and Milbank Memorial Library are also slated for renovations, but the architects said they are looking for further input at meetings with the College community before plans are finalized. Preliminary discussions regarding the Library and Russell Hall indicated that space could be put to more efficient use, and were accompanied by the architects' suggestions for consolidating Library services to the first three floors and redesignating the space in the upper floors of Russell Hall. This would also solve the problem of "swing space," or the area needed for relocation while renovations are being done where people usually do their work or hold their classes.

Discussions are also underway on renovations of Horace Mann Hall and the Horace Mann Auditorium. The architects have suggested restoring and using the Broadway entrance to Horace Mann Hall to provide access to visitors looking for student services. It would also allow public entry to the auditorium from a main roadway.

The second floor of Horace Mann is designated as a high technology area, Del Bagno said. Academic Computing will move to that floor. That floor will also house "smart classrooms," he said.

Early this year, a new classroom suite opened, added Ena Haines, Director of Computing and Information Services. Room 234 Horace Mann is an innovative hands-on classroom complete with laptops equipped with the latest technology. The main classroom suite seats up to a total of 32 students.

The students will be seated in pairs at tables equipped with laptops. The tables can be reconfigured so that the students can work in teams or sit in circles. "We wanted to design a classroom that would encourage people-to-people collaboration," she said.

Next door is a small seminar room with seating for 10 students. Students will also be able to work from laptops in that room as well, Haines said.

The basic premise for the improvements, according to the Comprehensive Plan provided by the architects, is to "build on the strengths of the existing campus and to eliminate its shortcomings." They suggested improvements to the existing design that will create better working conditions, more efficient use of space and the continued possibility of expansion. They also expect to highlight the location of amenities, services and activities on the first floor and to improve the connection between the buildings.

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