Renovation of Akron Law center moves full speed ahead
Progress continues on the $21 million renovation of the C. Blake McDowell Law Center at The University of Akron School of Law. Construction got underway in December 2015. Matthew J. Wilson, dean at The University of Akron School of Law, said the school expects to finish a large chunk of phase one in August, including the complete renovation of four first-floor classrooms and administrative areas housing the senior administration, admissions, student services, academic support and the IT departments. (Photo courtesy of The University of Akron School of Law)
Legal News Reporter
Published: June 29, 2016
Progress continues on the $21 million renovation of the C. Blake McDowell Law Center at The University of Akron School of Law.
After a year of intensive planning, construction got underway in December 2015.
Drawing from private donations, including a key $2 million gift from the estate of Mrs. Beatrice Knapp McDowell last year, state support and a savings plan, educators are giving the facility a debt-free facelift.
Matthew J. Wilson, dean at The University of Akron School of Law, said the school expects to finish a large chunk of phase one in August, including the complete renovation of four first-floor classrooms and administrative areas housing the senior administration, admissions, student services, academic support and the IT departments.
“Since December, administrators have been working out of the second and third floors of the library while the work is taking place on the first floor and our new wing,” said Wilson. “When the work is concluded, the classrooms will include the most up-to-date technology, be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant and enable law professors more opportunities to interactively engage students.”
Wilson said Akron-based Braun & Steidl Architects and RCG Architects in Baltimore designed the project with an eye toward current and future requirements.
“Improving the school’s infrastructure and equipping our students with the latest tools are important keys to student recruitment and student success.”
According to Stephen Myers, director of architecture and design at The University of Akron the original C. Blake McDowell Law Center was built in 1973 and is currently comprised of four separate and distinct parts.
“In 1988, an addition was built over the existing classrooms on the east side of McDowell, which doubled the size of the original library,” said Myers. “Then in 1993 the ‘link’ was built connecting the law school with West Hall, a non-descript building built in 1971 as a home to a local seminary.”
West Hall was used to house student areas, the legal clinic and some smaller seminar classrooms. It’s now been demolished along with most of the interior walls, ceilings and mechanical/electrical systems in the 1993 link, the first floor and basement of the original building and the 1988 addition.
Replacing the old West Hall is a new classroom wing that will include a 120-seat ceremonial moot court/classroom, complete with judges’ chambers, jury room, distance learning capabilities and fully integrated technology as well as two new 82-seat circular classrooms that are equipped with video conferencing and distance learning capabilities.
Wilson said the project is slightly ahead of schedule despite an unforeseen complication.
“After we tore down West Hall and were in the process of removing the foundation, we uncovered a long buried sandstone cistern,” said Myers. “The 14-foot wide, 50-foot long and 11-foot tall hollow structure was part of the old Buckeye Mower/ International Harvester factory that was built on the site in the 1860s.”
“From a historical standpoint it was interesting, but from a practical standpoint it created problems,” said Wilson. “Still thanks to the mild winter we are running ahead of schedule for the indoor portions of the project and are back on schedule for the outdoor portions.”
Phase two of the plan has also begun. Wilson said it includes the reconstruction of the library, which is being half-sized to facilitate more collaborative spaces for students as well as a new space for the clinics, a larger career services suite and an academic support suite. It will also contain a small moot courtroom.
“This project is reducing the size of the law school campus by about 20,000 square feet, most of which is coming from the library,” said Myers. “This is attainable because electronic resources have replaced the need for those stacks of books.
“The western half of the second and third floor of the library is currently being abated,” he said. “Once the administrators return to their newly renovated suite on the first floor the last part of the building will be handed to the contractors.”
To allow work on the library to begin, the professors are being housed in swing space on the third floor of Central-Hower High School for the next academic year. Central-Hower will also be home to several smaller classes and an expansive law student study area.
Prior to renovation, Myers said the faculty offices were scattered throughout the building wherever there was room. With the renovation, they will be located together in suites on the second and third floors with shared copy/work rooms and collaboration areas that are easily accessible to students.
In addition, the atrium at the center of the old complex is being repurposed as the new student commons. Myers said glass breakout rooms with teleconferencing ability will line one side and a café will be located on the other. Lounge seating will also be provided for students.
If all goes according to plan the new classroom wing and student commons will be completed by June 2017 and be up and running in the fall of 2017.
“When it’s completed we will have a brand new facility housed in the shell of tradition,” said Wilson. “While the inside is being completely rebuilt, most of the facilities will be surrounded by much of the original façade with some innovative tweaks and upgrades.”