Classroom renovations improve learning environments, diminish discrepancies across classrooms

A crack in the ceramic tiling of Eisenhower 014, where there is visible water damage. The floors have lost their shine, and most of the desks have endured some form of damage. Eisenhower Hall was built in 1951, and the 10,885 square foot building hosts the Department of Modern Languages and the Graduate School. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

In the classrooms of Eisenhower Hall, it’s a daily struggle for students in the Department of Modern Languages to communicate and learn when classes are in session.

Eisenhower, built in the early 1950s, relies on noisy window air conditioning units and clanking radiators for climate control in its classrooms. Sometimes the classrooms are too warm, and other times the air conditioning units are too noisy for students to hear their language instructors and classmates over.

“There have been several times when we’re in class and we have to leave a classroom because the pipes were so loud in the walls that we couldn’t hear each other talk,” Emily Wohaska, junior in Spanish, said.

Joey Beim, graduate teaching assistant in second language acquisition, said there can be snow on the ground outside, but the windows in classrooms remain open because it is so hot.

“You can see it in students, obviously when the room is uncomfortable,” Beim said. “It’s a distraction, especially when you get the clanging from the pipes from the heat. It’s even more of an issue in a language class, where they need to listen. In a foreign language class, you need to focus and pay attention as much as you can, and the rooms can be a distraction.”

The story is the same in several of the older buildings on campus — Willard, Holton, Kedzie. Some classrooms in these buildings do not have modern heating and cooling or enough outlets. Some of them are just plain old: Holton Hall was built in 1908, Willard Hall was reconstructed following a fire in 1934 and Waters Hall was built in 1913.

“We’re over 150 years, so it’s expensive to try and maintain and keep these buildings up — the heating, cooling,” said Cindy Bontrager, vice president of administration and finance. “There’s still a lot of window units. … That’s something we’re going to continue chipping away at over time so it’s a better learning environment for our students, instead of hearing these loud air conditioners blowing or cranking of furnaces or whatever.”

Old rooms, new upgrades

According to the Kansas Board of Regents 2019 Data Book, 43 percent of K-State’s total gross area (the area measured to outside face of each enclosed floor of buildings, excluding the roof) was built before 1960. The age of some buildings may lend to the declining condition of spaces.

At K-State, 1.1 percent of the gross area of buildings (about 72,000 square feet) is categorized by the Regents to be of “unsatisfactory” condition value, which is described as requiring “significant renovation or demolition.” Another 11.3 percent (about 700,000 square feet) is categorized as “poor,” or needing “major replacement, alteration or upgrading.”

Meanwhile, 28 percent rates as “good” or “excellent.”

Casey Lauer, assistant vice president of facilities, said the newer buildings on campus, like the Business Administration Building and the Engineering Complex, create perceived discrepancies between classrooms.

“We’re challenged with perception,” Lauer said. “You might have a class in a brand new building, and the next one’s in, for instance, Holton Hall where it’s really, really old. So, what can we do to upgrade conditions so that there’s not such a discrepancy amongst conditions of spaces or environments?”

Part of that problem is resolved through classroom renovation projects set by the classroom planning committee, which includes students. Heather Mills, facilities planning manager, said the committee looks at a variety of factors when determining whether to renovate a classroom: room condition, mechanics, accessibility, heating and cooling — but above all is budget.

“We look at how much money we have to renovate and then there’s finding a classroom that can fit within those funds,” Mills said. “So, that’s kind of where we start, is with the budget and we go from there looking at aesthetic need and functional need.”

The committee also uses surveys to find out what students and faculty want from the classrooms the spend time in.

“They talk about the access to electronics or outlets,” Mills said. “That’s something that people definitely want more of, which we’re focusing on. The comfort of the furniture and just noise in the room, whether it be from mechanical units or outside noise, the windows, that sort of thing. Anything that’s a distraction to the rooms.”

This summer, $300,000 is allocated to renovations in Eisenhower, Bontrager said. Rooms 218, 219, 226 and 227 will be detailed with new floors, paint, lighting, ceilings, furniture and technology if needed.

Eisenhower’s heating and cooling systems will also begin to be modified. This summer, the building will be closed for phase one of the project through the end of July, Jack Carlson, the project manager for the modifications, said in an email. This phase will prepare the building with mains and ductwork for a conversion to a central heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that will be less costly and more efficient.

Eisenhower Hall will be closed through the end of July for room renovations and construction to prepare for updates to the building's HVAC system. (Rachel Hogan | Collegian Media Group)

“This phase the students, faculty, and staff will not see any real benefit since the work we need to do will take more than one summer to accomplish,” Carlson said in an email. “We only have enough funding to install the first phase. Plus, we are not installing the HVAC units that will be connected to the heating and cooling mains and ductwork we are installing in this first phase.”

The modifications, Mills said, “will be nice because we’ll have some central air, which is one of the big factors in there that makes it uncomfortable — having the noisy AC unit.”

A large dumpster sits outside the entrance to Eisenhower Hall on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. The building is currently closed for classroom renovations and construction to prepare for updates to the HVAC system. (Rachel Hogan | Collegian Media Group)

Leasure 001, Throckmorton 1021 and a few rooms in Willard Hall will receive facelifts as well.

“We’re going to do a full update in those rooms,” Mills said.

How classroom facelifts get funded

Bontrager and Mills said plans are also in place to renovate the large lecture hall in Willard 114 and lab spaces across campus.

The funding for these projects likes these and general building maintenance comes from multiple sources.

“We do get funding from the state,” Bontrager said. “It’s not enough, but it’s something.”

The money from the state comes in the form of the education building fund, a state-wide tax levy imposed by the state to benefit Regents’ universities. Bontrager said the levy generates approximately $40 million per year. Of that, K-State receives $12.6 million, and the university uses it for roof replacements, window replacements and road repair for “mission critical buildings,” which excludes Athletics, buildings built after 2008 and buildings like All Faiths Chapel and Ahearn Fieldhouse.

“You know, people wonder: why is that such a mess?” Bontrager said. “We can’t use that funding on certain buildings, and so those are the ones that we have to find other funding sources for that. We need a lot more, probably four times what we get is what we really need to maintain the amount of square feet that we actually have.”

Other funding sources for classroom renovation projects come from philanthropic work by the Kansas State University Foundation and the academic infrastructure enhancement fee, a $4 per credit hour fee that generates about $1.8 million each year, by Bontrager’s estimates. Part of these funds goes towards paying off the $13 million commitment to the Business Administration Building made by former university president Kirk Schulz. About $900,000 goes towards classroom renovations.

“Once that gets paid off, we’ll dedicate all that money to classroom renovations,” Bontrager said.

One source where funds for classroom renovations does not come from is tuition dollars.

“I think it’s fair to say that we prioritize people over facilities,” Bontrager said. “If you think of how the university is funded, I’ll say it this way: We generally don’t use tuition dollars, unless we’re doing salary increases, when we do that facilities employees are included.”

Bontrager said buildings are dependent on state funding.

“Our philosophy is these are state buildings,” Bontrager said. “We look to the state to provide the funding to do the repair and maintenance. You can see where that has gotten us.”

The Kansas State University Foundation funds renovation projects across campus — both large and small — with donations from alumni. Larger projects, like the Business Administration Building and the Engineering Complex, take an extensive amount of time and work to fundraise for, said John Morris, senior vice president of development for the Foundation.

“It’s one conversation at a time, one gift at a time to make it happen,” Morris said. “It’s thousands of individual conversations, thousands of visits or phone calls, and then years, honestly years, of engaging donors to kind of earn the philanthropy because it is a gift. They don’t owe us anything. Donors don’t owe the institution, they don’t owe, they don’t have to do any of this stuff. It’s all voluntary.”

Bontrager said, however, that some donors may be less likely to support renovation projects in older buildings.

“These are state buildings and they should be taking care of them. Donors are more apt to build new and help in naming things like that — like the multicultural center, in business and the engineering hall,” Bontrager said.

Morris said the projects the Foundation secures donations for are determined by priorities set by the university president’s cabinet, deans and program leaders — but students are always a priority.

It’s also within students’ power to set classroom renovation priorities, Mills said.

“They should be encouraged to voice their thoughts, definitely, to their SGA representatives because they’re the ones who sit on the committees to help them identify the needs as we go through and make the priority list of how to make the most impact on campus with the funds we have available. We want to hear their voices.”

Rafael Garcia contributed to this report.

Hey, hi, hello! I’m Rachel Hogan, the copy chief for The Collegian. I’m a senior in journalism from Olathe, Kansas. When I’m not at work in the newsroom, I like to spend my time cuddling with my dog, working as a barista and laughing with my friends.