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  May 8, 2001

Plans for Gentry Building Bring
Education School Under One Roof

The ink is just barely dry on a major renovation plan for the Charles Burt Gentry Building.

The 42-year-old structure - home to the Neag School of Education - is showing its age and is imposing severe limitations on the School's day-to-day operations and its growth.

"We're bursting at the seams," says Richard Schwab, dean. "Our faculty, staff and classes are spread among several buildings. The number of people supported by grants has nearly doubled in the last four years, but there is no space for them to work. And we are facing a variety of environmental challenges."

The Gentry Building is not air conditioned, making working conditions during the summer months uncomfortable. Its power supply has been maxed-out and the computer network system needs substantial upgrading.

Those are just some of the challenges presented to the architectural firm, Svigals Associates of New Haven. The School's building committee also requested that the new facility provide work and common space that would promote collegiality and cooperation - a far cry from the secluded, gloomy, and cramped rooms that now exist.

"We are very excited to be involved with the transformation of the Neag School," says Barry Svigals, president of Svigals Associates. "The design expresses the expanded mission for the School, while strongly connecting to the vitality of the existing campus."

Keeping the integrity of the original building intact is particularly important because Gentry has a sister building across the courtyard - the School of Business Administration. Once the business faculty and staff move into their new facility, their former home will undergo renovations to become the University's new Learning Center. Svigals Associates will also be designing that project.

The Gentry plan calls for the gutting of the 58,000-square-foot building and for the addition of another 20,000 square feet to the west side.

The building committee's request for community space resulted in the design for a main atrium which will become the heart of the School. The building's first three floors will open onto the atrium and a beautiful staircase will connect the floors. Within the atrium will be a student lounge and a cyber forum.

The building's five floors have been designed so that each department and center will have its own core, yet will not be isolated from the others. Bright, natural light has been incorporated throughout the building.

"While the new facility addresses the School's present needs, it was designed for flexibility and growth in the future," says Peggy Rubens-Duhl, project manager.

For the first time, the School will have flexible space for large and small group meetings which will accommodate conferences and classes for in-service teachers. Also planned are several "smart" classrooms for local and distance learning, a curriculum resources center, and a high-end multimedia center. Air conditioning, a new ventilation system, a new roof, windows and an elevator are included in the design.

Schwab says members of his group were thrilled when they reviewed the Svigals Associates drawings. The end product, he explains, will result in another milestone for the Neag School of Education.

"For the first time, we will have a fully integrated school of education, bringing all of our strengths together under one roof. This will make collaboration and inter-department work easier, without having to overcome the barrier of being in separate buildings. Working together will become part of every day life."

But before any walls come tumbling down, the Neag School has major fund raising to accomplish. The University has committed to moving forward with a $10 million project and the School is responsible for raising $2 million of it. If the School is able to raise an additional $8 million by next June, however, the University will give the go-ahead for an $18 million project.

"It is a large challenge we've been given and to accomplish it, we need to go beyond the usual pool of educators," says Brian Ibsen, the Neag School's director of development. He is working closely with the dean and his national advisory board to develop a fund-raising strategy.

"We have determined that we'll need several large gifts to meet our goal," Ibsen says, "and we have begun to identify individuals and corporations who may be interested in contributing to the building fund or equipment donations."

Janice Palmer

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