DECATUR – The only good thing to come out of the COVID-19 closures is that Richland Community College was able to do a lot of renovations without disturbing students and staff.
When students return on August 12, they will see dramatically improved classrooms and laboratories, new furniture and equipment as part of the $ 12 million Phase I master plan.
âI call him the Wizard of Oz,â said Greg Florian, vice president of finance. There’s Kansas (the parts that are not yet remodeled), the Tornado (where work is still underway) and Oz (the finished part), he said.
Science labs, formerly located on the second floor of the west wing, moved to the first floor of the south wing, where health care is located, and it made more sense to have science there as well, Florian said. .
Improvements to health care programs include a working x-ray machine and a fully equipped ambulance, with lights and siren, but without a cabin or motor.
‘Plug it in’
Work began in October and there are about three weeks left to complete Phase I. The west wing is only just beginning, he said, and it will be completed in January 2022.
âPeople would come here and say, ‘Oh. You have a second floor, âsaid Florian.
The hallways in the finished part are wider and will also be wider in the west wing when it is completed.
âThe key to this kind of project is to do a lot of planning,â said Florian.
Planning for major upgrades began in 2018, Florian said, and in 2019 the administration sought staff input on design ideas. After everything shut down in March 2020, the work went very quickly thanks to Do It Right This Time, a Canadian company that makes easy-to-build walls that fit together quickly, quietly and like a puzzle, complete with wiring and insulation already installed.
Rather than the noise and clutter of typical construction, nearby activities could go on uninterrupted. Richland staff visited the business in Calgary just before everything closed in the spring of 2020 and returned on the Friday before the border closed the following Monday.
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âAll we have to do is take the plug and plug it in,â Florian said of the cabling of the computers, lights and equipment.
Another advantage is that if a section of wall is damaged in some way, each section has a specific ID number, and Richland can order a replacement, remove the damaged section and insert the new one without taking everything apart. .
Sections of the classroom walls include whiteboard surfaces and computer screens where students and instructors can share information from laptops, iPads, tablets, and phones. These, too, can be replaced or rearranged as needed.
Flexibility and options
The project is another step in the evolution of Richland, which was founded in 1971. Today, the campus at the northern edge of Decatur comprises approximately 155 acres. In 2019, the college launched the master plan for future growth.
Richland emptied himself last year as COVID cases increased and classes moved online. This allowed the work to be completed.
The changes extend to the new furniture, which includes flexible seating that allows students to choose from standard desks, upholstered chairs with desks, and rectangular ottoman-style seats that students can use as stools or rock on the chair. side. Common areas include comfy chairs, sofas, and chairs with privacy walls, and charging stations are everywhere.
âIt was the model for the classrooms,â said Florian. “And we put it in the new (science) labs as well.”
Terrance Taylor, who teaches in the Essential Skills program that prepares mature students for the job market, said his favorite thing was natural light, joking that it was like “teaching in a cave “.
âNo daylight,â Florian said with a small laugh. âNo benchmarks. This building was designed in the 1970s and opened in the 1980s and it has that old and institutional feel to it.
The Academic Success Center has been expanded and improved so that students feel more comfortable and get the help they need more efficiently, said administrative assistant Annetta Evans.
âWe have already had visiting students,â she said. âThe space itself is really cool. I loved being back on campus and seeing people again. I think students are going to have multiple comfortable areas for just about everything. “
The Richland Community College campus in photos
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Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter