Long-overdue updates coming for Harris Hall

Nathalie Tadena

Harris Hall, a designated Evanston historical landmark and home to NU’s history department, will close in December to undergo renovations, officials said.

Classes will be held in Harris through Fall Quarter 2008, but the history department will relocate to 1800 Sherman Ave. during winter break, said Marvin Lofquist, Weinberg associate dean for physical environment. Classes will not be held in Harris for at least one year beginning in January 2009, and renovations will primarily impact the interior of the building while preserving the exterior architecture, he said.

Construction will take between 12 and 18 months, and will include the installation of an elevator, air-conditioning, and handicap accessible ramps and corridors, Lofquist said. Improvements will also be made to the electrical, plumbing and fire alarm systems.

The departmental office and several faculty offices will move to the ground floor to make the building more accessible for students and visitors. A new addition on the ground level will also provide space for a history seminar room, the new Center for Historical Studies and study space for graduate students, Lofquist said. Classrooms on the upper level will also be updated.

“Since it was built primarily as a building for classrooms, many of the existing offices in Harris are sub-divided classrooms that are not laid out efficiently,” Lofquist said. “By starting clean and designing the whole plan to meet current programming needs, Harris Hall will become a much better work space for both offices and classrooms.”

Built in 1915, Harris’ front Ionic columns, which were designed by Charles Coolidge, an architect with the firm that designed the Chicago Cultural Center and the Art Institute of Chicago, easily distinguish it from other campus buildings.

“It’s a premier building, but it has not been remodeled in a long time,” Lofquist said.

On average, 105 classes are held in Harris’ eight classrooms each year, Jaci Rivera, NU’s assistant registrar for scheduling and registration, wrote in an e-mail. During renovations, the registrar’s office will need to find alternative space for classes that would have been held in Harris.

Because specific classes that meet in Harris Hall change each quarter, it is “difficult to determine which classes will be directly affected by the closure of the building,” Rivera wrote. Nearly every department with an office on South Campus holds classes in the building.

With limited space once Harris’ rooms become unavailable, departments will be asked to limit the classes offered during peak teaching times when classroom space in South Campus buildings is especially tight, Rivera wrote.

Classes that would have been held in Harris will be held in rooms allocated by departments and spaces that will be revamped over the summer, including the Owen L. Coon Forum in Leverone Hall, for large lecture classes. Departments might also need to borrow classroom space from other schools and groups on campus on a class-by-class basis, Rivera wrote.

The history department will take over space currently occupied by the School of Communication. Communication faculty currently housed in Harris and in 1800 Sherman Ave. will move to Annie May Swift Hall this summer.

Some faculty members are concerned with the logistical difficulties associated with moving offices, said Paula Blaskovits, business administrator for the history department.

Blaskovits said she did not see moving to 1800 Sherman Ave. as a hindrance because “many students go into Evanston all the time.”

Faculty members with joint appointments may choose to work in their offices in other departments instead of using space at 1800 Sherman Ave., Blaskovits said.

History Prof. Henry Binford, who has an office and teaches in Harris, said the inconvenience will be worth it.

“It’s a nice old building with character, but a lot of things need to be fixed,” he said.

[email protected]