From IWU Magazine, Fall 2010
Breaking New Ground
The new Main Classroom Building promises to
transform teaching and learning at Illinois Wesleyan.
Story by CELESTE HUTTES
The Main Classroom Building's design reflects the growing importance of collaborative
learning, project work and professor-student discussions.
University history will come full circle when Illinois Wesleyan’s newest educational
facility is constructed on the site of North Hall, which was IWU’s first campus building.
Old North was torn down in 1966 to make room for Sheean Library. Standing vacant since
The Ames Library opened in 2002, Sheean itself will be demolished as early as next
summer to provide space for the new facility. To be called the Main Classroom Building,
it will bring students, professors and technology together in a framework designed
for the 21st century.
“At the heart of everything we do as a liberal arts university is the classroom,”
says President Richard F. Wilson. “This building will provide general education classrooms
worthy of the kind of teaching and learning that goes on at Illinois Wesleyan.”
The new Main Classroom Building will also serve as an anchor to the north end of the
Eckley Quadrangle and provide an aesthetic counterpoint to The Ames Library on the
When it is finished, the 48,700-square-foot facility will replace Shaw Hall, which
became Illinois Wesleyan’s primary instructional building when it opened in 1954.
“While Shaw admirably served as the center of our instructional program for half a
century, quite frankly it is coming to the end of its life expectancy,” Wilson says.
“It meets our minimum needs, but it is limited.”
Shaw’s mechanical, structural and technological deficiencies and its lack of disability
access were just a few of the problems cited when a new classroom building was first
proposed in 2002 as part of the University’s master plan.
The new Main Classroom Building will stand on the spot where North Hall (above) first
greeted Illinois Wesleyan students.
Another of Shaw’s shortcomings is the size of its classrooms. When Shaw was built,
enrollment was around 1,600 students. Today it’s nearly 2,100. In addition, nearly
90 percent of classes today have 30 or fewer students — only half of the classrooms
in Shaw were designed for classes of that size. “The Main Classroom Building is being
constructed to maximize the benefits of small-class learning at the University,” says
Perhaps Shaw Hall’s biggest drawback is its inability to take advantage of technological
advances in teaching and learning. “Having been built in the day when the primary
teaching tools were chalk and blackboards, Shaw no longer meets the many and varied
requirements for electronic resources in the classroom,” Wilson says. “Faculty members
have to work pretty hard to cobble things together to make it happen in some of our
Room to connect and grow
Shaw Hall’s shortcomings will be remedied in the design of the new Main Classroom
Building. “We have made it a priority to construct spaces that speak to the learning
styles of today’s students,” says Frank Boyd, interim provost and dean of faculty.
In the spirit of The Ames Library, the new facility will offer open, inviting areas
for learning, day or night. The look of the library will also be echoed in the new
classroom building’s glass-and-brick exterior. Other architectural features will borrow
from the classic buildings located on the Eckley Quadrangle.
The planned structure — which will meet or exceed building-code access standards of
the Americans with Disabilities Act — includes three floors above grade and one below,
with 27,000 square feet of usable space. The building’s 19 classrooms will offer,
on average, about 30 square feet per student, nearly doubling Shaw Hall’s per-student
“We created classrooms to suit a variety of class sizes and teaching and learning
styles,” says Katie Faulkner, who worked on the project as an associate principal
at Shepley Bulfinch — the same architectural firm that designed The Ames Library and
the renovation of the Hansen Student Center. “Illinois Wesleyan is very visionary
in its way of thinking about these new classrooms,” she adds. Sizes vary “from a traditional
case-study classroom that seats 40 to more intimate seminar rooms seating 15 to 20.”
Business and economics faculty will have offices on the third floor, along with space
for administrative support, research projects and two conference rooms. “I’m certain
that many more students will take advantage of faculty office hours once our offices
are located in the same building as their classrooms,” says Rob Kearney, chair and
associate professor of business administration. “This proximity will also be a big
benefit to the advising process.”
The new building allows ample space for students to connect with each other and with
professors in non-classroom settings. More than 3,500 square feet is devoted to group-study
and lounge areas.
“We hope to see a buzzing, thriving community of students using these spaces before
and after classes,” says Roger Schnaitter, professor emeritus and former associate
provost for academic planning and standards, who has been heavily involved in planning
the new classroom building.
“In the evenings, the building will become a campus study center,” Schnaitter adds,
“serving as an alternative to The Ames Library.”
Continuing the tradition that established Sheean Library as backdrop for spring graduation
ceremonies, the classroom building’s south facade will feature a commencement plaza.
Its central location on the quad should imbue the plaza with a strong emotional connection
for new graduates as well as returning alumni.
“The commencement plaza accentuates the fact that this building occupies a very important
position on campus,” says Faulkner. “We are aware of the power this site holds in
the hearts and minds of alumni.”
Anticipating the future
Along with facilitating interpersonal connections, the building will be well-equipped
to connect students and faculty to the latest in classroom technology.
“We wanted to create a facility that takes advantage of existing instructional technologies,”
says Wilson, “and anticipate where we think technology is going.”
Many of the classrooms will be outfitted with projection capabilities, control panels,
smart boards and flat-screen monitors.
“We need instructional technology that is not obtrusive,” says Boyd, “but can be a
catalyst for learning.”
The building’s design aims to prepare for — rather than precisely predict — future
high-tech advancements. “You can be ready for future technology by building flexibility
into the design,” says Faulkner, “so you can bring technology in as it comes.”
The classroom building, along with a new theatre complex, represent a fifth of the
Transforming Lives campaign’s $125 million goal. The rest will go to student scholarships, The Wesleyan
Fund and faculty and program endowments.
Such flexibility can be seen in the planned “studio classroom.” Featuring moveable
furniture, adaptable technology and writing surfaces on all of the walls, it’s designed
“as a kind of laboratory for innovative instruction,” says Schnaitter.
“Faculty who want to experiment in adopting new technologies into their classrooms
will want to teach here,” Schnaitter predicts. “We will be ready to reconfigure it,
based on interests of the faculty, each new semester. If an idea catches on in the
studio classroom, it can migrate from there to other classrooms in the building and
As with the most recent campus building project — the Minor Myers, jr. Welcome Center
— the new classroom facility will emphasize environmental sustainability. Insulated
brick walls and energy-efficient windows and lighting are some of the building’s “green”
features. Like the Welcome Center, the classroom building will be supported by a geothermal
system that should cut heating and cooling costs by as much as 50 percent.
A free-flowing design process
Helping guide each step of the Main Classroom Building’s design was a user committee
comprised of faculty, students, staff and administrators.
“We started the committee when we first began discussions about possibly building
this facility,” says Schnaitter, who led the group. “We met regularly and had free-flowing
discussions and brainstorming sessions.”
The committee also hosted open meetings, inviting all students and faculty to provide
input. Much of that feedback sought to address the limitations of Shaw Hall and ultimately
found its way into the design.
For example, “students were concerned that Shaw has no place to go after class is
over,” says Schnaitter. “Students in Shaw take their classes and leave — there is
no open space for them to study or interact outside of class. This produces a more
mechanized learning environment than we would like.”
Such concerns led to a recommendation for a work-station area where small groups of
students can collaborate on projects or simply hang out. This area will be equipped
with flat screens that allow students to plug in their laptops and easily share information.
Even the distinctive “piano curve” design that accents the Main Classroom Building’s
north side, and the wedge shape of the structure itself, originated in faculty feedback
that encouraged planners to “think outside the box.”
“The user committee was a terrific cross section; they really were the eyes and ears
of campus,” says Faulkner, who also met regularly with a steering committee and specific
interest groups, such as Information Technology and professors from various departments.
“Wesleyan has a very open, collaborative culture. People feel a great sense of ownership
and go out of their way to be heard and to listen.”
Funding the transformation
While feedback was critical in making the new classroom building a reality, so is
its funding. Wesleyan will spend an estimated $14 million to create this 21st-century
learning environment — and is well on its way to raising that amount. A longtime IWU
supporter, who wishes to remain anonymous, has pledged $10 million toward the project.
The University is seeking donors for the additional funds needed to complete the structure.
“We are fortunate to have a very generous gift that will take us 70 percent of the
way,” says Wilson. “I am very confident that we will receive gifts from alumni and
friends to cover the balance that we need.”
Guided by a strong pay-as-you-go philosophy, Wilson stands firm in his stance that
all of the remaining funds be raised before construction begins.
“In the current economic environment, we've made a commitment that we won't build
anything unless we have the money to do it. We don't want to add to the University’s
debt load,” says Wilson, who took the same prudent approach in funding construction
for the Minor Myers, jr. Welcome Center.
If the necessary funds are raised in time, ground could be broken for the Main Classroom
Building in the summer of 2011, and it would open its doors for classes in the fall
of 2012. The long-range master plan calls for Shaw Hall to be demolished, though it
may continue to be used to meet short-term needs.
The Main Classroom Building — along with a new complex to replace the 47-year-old
McPherson Theatre — are the main capital projects in the
Transforming Lives: The Campaign for Illinois Wesleyan that is now underway. Combined, these projects represent about 20 percent of the
campaign goal of $125 million. The remaining 80 percent of the goal is devoted to
student scholarships, The Wesleyan Fund and faculty and program endowments.
Says architect Katie Faulkner, “The commencement plaza accentuates the fact that this
building occupies a very important position on campus. We are aware of the power this
site holds in the hearts and minds of alumni.”
The campaign’s priorities were based on a Strategic Plan approved by Illinois Wesleyan’s
Board of Trustees in 2006. The new Main Classroom Building supports the strategic
goal to transform teaching and learning at Illinois Wesleyan. Specifically, that goal
aims “to augment teaching and learning resources to match our increased student body
size, emerging curricular directions and evolving student expectations.”
And when seeking to transform, a new foundation is often a good place to begin, quite
Wilson recalls a conversation he had with a faculty member who taught classes in both
Shaw Hall and the Center for Natural Science Learning and Research. The professor
told him, “Where you teach does make a difference.” The comment lingered in Wilson’s
mind. “For me, that was a compelling statement about why we need to do this,” he says.
Frank Boyd echoes that sentiment, noting the power of place in learning.
“Faculty are looking forward to teaching in the new classrooms because when you provide
different kinds of learning spaces, faculty start rethinking their teaching to meet
the space,” says Boyd. “A new learning environment is likely to stimulate creativity
on the part of the faculty.”
Standing on the hallowed ground where North Hall was opened to Illinois Wesleyan’s
first students, the new Main Classroom Building holds the same promise of discovery
and learning for future generations.
As President Wilson says, “I believe this building holds the potential to help us
take a giant step forward in the quality of the educational experience that we provide