NU allots funds for new, better classrooms

Casey Newton

Talk about a class struggle.

Swift Hall Room 107 has gone longer without repairs than almost any other classroom on the Evanston campus. The “smart” classrooms of a few years ago are now less so after a string of advances in technology. And without a bigger budget for renovations, many classroom complaints have gone unaddressed.

Until now.

Beginning next year, the university will allocate $500,000 annually for classroom renovation, an amount subject to review each year. And in conjunction with the Associated Student Government, administrators are polling students and faculty on classroom-use trends.

“We had a budget every year for classroom improvement, but it was a pretty small amount,” said Ron Nayler, vice president for facilities management. “Any renovations to classes would come about on an ad hoc basis. This amount of money is the minimum requirement every year to be able to effectively plan for renovations overall.”

Nayler is the co-chairman of a classroom improvement committee formed Winter Quarter by Provost Lawrence Dumas. The roughly 15-person committee will review recommendations for classroom renovations when it meets June 5.

“They evaluate classroom use and quality and recommend to the provost and to the deans policies on classroom utilization, priorities for assignment scheduling and improvements,” said Jean Shedd, committee co-chairwoman.

But Shedd, associate provost for budget, facilities and analysis, said the committee wants more information before making recommendations.

“I don’t think anyone in recent years has looked closely at classroom quality or utilization. There’s a lot of information to be gathered about how we use the classrooms,” she said.

To help plan renovations, administrators created a Web-based survey for faculty on classroom-use patterns and what improvements they would like to see. They also asked Sameer Gafoor, ASG academic vice president, to poll students on the best and worst classrooms on campus.

“There are a lot of different complaints from students that such-and-such a (classroom) doesn’t serve their needs adequately,” said Gafoor, a Weinberg sophomore. “For a student, a classroom isn’t just a place for learning. Students have a vested interest not only during class hours, but also after hours.”

Gafoor sent the survey to ASG senators over their listserv but said he encourages all students to e-mail him with their suggestions. Besides surveying students about their academic classroom use, he is also asking about students’ study places and meeting spaces for student groups.

Additionally, many want to focus on smart classrooms — upgrading existing ones and adding new ones.

“The anecdotal information we have is that faculty and students both believe we need more smart classrooms than we already have,” Nayler said.

So far, Gafoor said he has gotten feedback on a variety of issues, from temperature and lighting control to one student who asked that Kresge Hall be demolished.

“That one might take a while,” Gafoor said.

Other proposed changes include renovating classes in Parkes Hall and making moderate changes to “OK” classrooms to make them “great,” Nayler said.

Nayler said he was glad the university had devoted more resources to renovations.

“This is an exciting opportunity,” he said. “It’s a great committee, and it’s certainly an area that needs to be addressed.”