Additional classrooms receive upgrades this summer

Summer is the busiest time for classroom renovations and technology refreshes across campus. This summer is no different.

Auditorium renovation

The W. Kiley and Marie Powers Auditorium – located in room 2050 of Agronomy Hall -- is a 117-seat tiered auditorium getting a complete makeover with new seats, lights, acoustic panels and removal of the stepped ceiling in favor of a flat ceiling to allow higher projector placement. The auditorium's capacity won't change, but the renovation creates space for height-adjustable tables to accommodate all individuals.

"It still will have fixed chairs for seating with accessible seating in the back," said classroom scheduling specialist Katie Baumgarn. "We gained some room by removing the old projection booth."

Mike Pedersen, information technology services' audiovisual experience team (AVXT) manager, said the auditorium will have new audiovisual technology, including a dual-projection system so instructors can share two things at once. The Level 1 room includes a pan/tilt/zoom camera, microphone and lecture-capture capability for hybrid courses. Extra monitors will be added near the back to ensure students can see the instruction.

"It is going to be one of the best equipped spaces on campus when it's done," he said.

The project began May 13 and is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 26 -- the first day of fall classes.

The process of renovation

Baumgarn, who leads a three-person team, has a plan for general university classroom renovations through fiscal year 2031 to prioritize efforts. In the last 10 years, about one-third of Iowa State's 209 general university classrooms and auditoriums had a full renovation or received upgrades.

Who knew? The chalk vs. marker debate

In their pre-renovation meetings with the primary users of a space, Baumgarn said a recurring debate is chalk versus dry erase markers. Classroom scheduling coordinator Elizabeth Salton surveyed a department last year to learn more about preferences. Of the 60 faculty members surveyed:

  • 13 strongly preferred chalk
  • 24 strongly preferred markers
  • 10 favored chalk
  • 9 favored markers
  • 4 had no preference

Some faculty shared reasons for their preference:

  • "Markers tend to get stolen and/or dry out. Nobody steals chalk and it always works."
  • "Chalk is cheaper, easier to get off your hands and clothes. It won't suddenly stop writing."
  • "Chalk is absolutely unhealthy with dust everywhere, including our clothes, hair and lungs."
  • "Marker boards and markers allow for better group engagement of students at boards."

"We do not receive enough funding ourselves," she said. "We receive funding from the provost office and once we make a determination we work with the colleges to see if they can add some money as well. AVXT also brings money to the table when it is involved with a project."

Baumgarn said anytime a significant project is considered, she invites primary users of the space to talk with her team.

"In the case of 2050 Agronomy, we contacted the department and had a faculty member meet with us as we went through the design process," she said. "This allows us to learn what people would like in the updated room and them to understand what is feasible for us to do."

Pedersen, who leads a nine-person team, communicates with Baumgarn throughout the year on projects. The process begins in September as plans for the next summer take shape to ensure both groups can work efficiently.

"I ask them what rooms they are renovating from a facilities perspective because we try to renovate the AV anytime they are doing a significant renovation," he said. "She usually gives me a two- to three-year outlook on the rooms they are going to attempt to renovate."

Pedersen has a detailed nine-year plan to refresh technology in general university classrooms. His team hopes to complete 28 room refreshes this summer, which does not include the Agronomy auditorium (handled by an outside contractor to save time).

"For us to finish the 28 rooms, we have to finish one every three days and the auditorium would be at least a two-week investment for us," he said. "We also do fee-for-service projects, and we also will take a couple of weeks this summer for work on the second and third floors of the Memorial Union as the remodeling project nears conclusion."

Right-sizing classrooms

As a result of a small classroom study by facilities planning and management, several with a capacity of 50 or less will have desks and chairs removed this summer.

"Right now, the space per student in these classrooms is somewhere between 15 and 17 square feet, but the study recommends 25 square feet per student," Baumgarn said. "Last fall, we removed the extra chairs and desks from a room in Ross Hall and did a survey of the faculty and students."

Results were overwhelmingly positive and will lead to 30 classrooms having some furniture removed this summer. The intent is to improve accessibility and make it easier for students to collaborate in groups. Baumgarn said there are enough spaces across campus to satisfy various teaching needs.

More AVXT projects

AVXT has several other projects beginning with an update to Lagomarcino room 2441 to address projection issues caused by vibrations and space constraints. To accommodate a new flat-panel screen but keep the chalkboards, Pedersen's team designed a rail system in front of the chalkboards, allowing instructors to move the screen as needed.

"It's the first room at the university to have this design," he said. "We will be curious to see what the faculty think, and we'll collect feedback throughout the year."

Nine rooms in the basement of Ross Hall heavily used by speech communications also will receive Level 1 technology to allow students giving speeches to record and review themselves.