Media building opens – sorta

Shawntaye Hopkins

This week, Pam Johnson is nestling into her new office in the Mass Media and Technology Hall.

But Johnson, the new director of the School of Journalism and Broadcasting, is one of the few faculty members moving in.

Others still have to wait.

Yesterday, students attended the first journalism classes held in Media Hall, which was supposed to open in November 2002. Because of scheduling delays, office changes and final touches are still in progress.

“The building is what we call 90-plus percent complete,” said John Osborne, associate vice president for campus services and facilities.

Media Hall is an 111,264 square-foot building with several lobby areas, carpeted classrooms and offices, large windows, student computer labs, a skylight, a photo studio and an auditorium.

Jo-Ann Albers, former director of the School of Journalism and Broadcasting, said the building was very open and should be a friendly place.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It isn’t as much as we’d hoped for, but it’s still wonderful.”

Albers said she’d wished for bigger offices in Media Hall, and there were a few other things that couldn’t be done because they didn’t fit in the budget.

The cost of the building will reach the budgeted $18.5 million in state funding, Osborne said.

Ed West, the director of planning design and construction, said there were also $1.5 million in private donations that funded the project’s plaza and the Guthrie Bell Tower.

Journalism classes, except photojournalism, are currently being held on all three floors of the building. Photojournalism classes remain on the top floor of the Garrett Conference Center until new equipment is installed on the first floor of Media Hall.

Faculty are expected to move into the hall on Sept. 8.

Richard KirchmeyerCQ, vice president of Information Technology, said Media Hall has been examined by a state building inspector and is ready for occupancy, but most of the offices don’t have telephone or network connections yet.

None of the classes will have their planned audiovisual equipment until about five weeks after a vendor is chosen for installation, Kirchmeyer said.

He said vendors have until mid-September to place bids.

West said he doesn’t expect other finishing touches – including laying sidewalks, landscaping, painting, and working on floors and ceilings – to interfere with classes.

“The building is fully functional,” West said.

Until June, the project was headed by Madisonville-based Star Construction, which was awarded the contract in April 2001.

“Western felt the project had been behind from the very beginning, but the state did not respond,” West said.

He said Star fell behind schedule in addition to having financial problems.

But Western officials don’t expect to have these problems again.

“We no longer will be in the state system,” West said. “We are opting out under House bill 622.”

That move, approved by the Board of Regents last semester, will allow the university to manage its own financial operations, including construction projects. The state previously ran all major construction projects at Western.

Osborne said delays occurred because Star was unable to keep an adequate staff on the project. He said the only changes Western made during construction were in the regents room as donors contributed more money.

Contractors at Star Construction could not be reached for comment.

After Star pulled out, Merit Construction Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn. was brought to complete the project by Acquity, a bonding company who insured the building would be completed on budget, West said.

“The contractor that came in did a fantastic job of getting us where we are right now,” West said. “We didn’t get the building finished as planned, but we focused on what we needed to do to have classes in the building.”

Delays in the schedule have caused a series of moving complications on the Hill.

The data center on the third floor of the Wetherby Administration Building will move into the Media Hall on September 12, Kirchmeyer said. He said students and faculty can expect the network to be down for at least that weekend. Information Technology will also move from Wetherby to the new facility.

Bob EdwardsCQ, assistant vice president of University Relations, said media relations, publications and communications will move from Van Meter Hall into Wetherby. Edwards has already relocated into Wetherby.

Edwards said the move allows for more accessibility to the offices of Tom HilesCQ, the vice president for institutional advancement, and President Gary Ransdell.

Scott StrootCQ, theater and dance department head, said the theater department is planning to move several faculty and create an acting studio in Gordon Wilson Hall, but journalism professors still occupy the space.

“It will be an inconvenience, but I’m not totally worried,” he said.

Stroot hopes the renovations for the acting studio on the third floor of Gordon Wilson and the office changes will occur by the end of the semester.

The forensics team, who have occupied a room in the basement of Cherry Hall, will move into Garrett after photojournalism moves into the Media Hall and the space has been renovated for the team.

Forensics Coach Jace LuxCQ looks forward to that happening before next semester.

He said the move is needed for the team, which won three national and one international forensics tournaments last year.

“Our team’s gotten a lot bigger in the last couple of years and our staff’s gotten bigger as well,” he said.

Though delays push the Media Hall’s completion date nearly a year behind schedule, many students seem pleased with the outcome.

Louisville senior Matt HiltonCQ talked to himself as he walked into Media Hall Monday for his 12:20 broadcasting class.

“Fancy,” he said.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]