Journalism department finally got a piece of the pie

By Sam Hayes

Courtesy Media Relations
The Communications, Journalism and Linguistics Departments will be getting a new home for the 2014 spring semester when a new $85 million dollar, 1800-person, “state of the art” academic building is scheduled to be complete.

Secretary of the State Executive Office for Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez said that the state will contribute $65 million to the University of Massachusetts for the building with a Higher Education Bond Bill. The building was proposed when Deval Patrick signed the $2 billion bill in 2008, but it has been delayed until now said UMass spokesperson Daniel Fitzgibbons.

The new academic classroom building (NACB), expected to be complete in January of 2014, will be a five story, 150,000 square foot “digitally enabled learning space” with everything from chalkboards and modern audio visual equipment to television and production studios, film screening rooms, computer labs, editing rooms, and speech perception and auditory phonetics labs, said Ed Blaguszewski in a UMass press release.

“‘Digitally enabled learning space’ means faculty will be able to integrate teaching materials such as multiple images and video into their classroom instruction, making it easier to engage students in the course material,” explained Fitzgibbons in an e-mail interview.

“For the three academic units that will be in the building – communication, journalism and linguistics – there will be advanced technology that will put them into the forefront of their fields and help prepare students for their careers,” Fitzgibbons said.

The NACB will be located near the campus pond, the Student Union, and The Murray D. Lincoln Campus Center, a spot where 3600 students pass each hour on their way to class. The NACB is planned to have LEED Gold rating for sustainable building and low energy usage.

“Our entire department is thrilled about the prospect of moving to the NACB,” Linguistics Professor John McCarthy said.

“For our entire history, we’ve been housed in a 19th century building,” McCarthy said about the Linguistics Department’s current home, South College, “And we’ll be moving into a 21st century one, skipping the 20th century entirely.”

“We’ll finally have the lab space we need for all of our research, and our faculty and students will finally have a nice place to work,” explained McCarthy.

Journalism Professor Norman Sims echoed McCarthy’s excitement saying, “The new building will be a wonderful thing.”

“It will be great to have new offices for the departments involved after decades in Bartlett Hall, South College, and Machmer,” said Sims about the three department’s current residences. Sims continued, “More important, I think is that there will be new classrooms in the building. Despite all the building in recent years, this will be the first new classroom building.”

“There has not been a major academic building built on campus for decades and given the age and condition of many of our older buildings, this facility is way overdue,” said Fitzgibbons, “Twice in the last 25 years, a new academic building has been proposed, but neither plan materialized.”

The lack of new classroom construction is a leading reason for the proposed building. Another is the need for a more technologically advanced classrooms.

“A lot has changed in the learning environment and this new building will give faculty the ability to interact with students more effectively,” said Fitzgibbons. “Students will be able to work in teams and faculty will be able employ the latest teaching technology to promote learning. Our current stock of classroom buildings are not designed for these types of learning.”

UMass student Ashley O’Brien, 19, shared the professors’ excitement. “We need more classroom buildings, because we have so many kids coming here now,” said the Psychology major and Plainville, Mass. native. “It sucks to sit on the floors during an hour-long lecture, so this is definitely needed.”

The new building will “help the campus attract students and faculty by providing a facility designed to improve the learning process,” explained Fitzgibbons.

“The addition of needed classroom space will ease pressure on existing classrooms and give the campus more flexibility to schedule classes,” said Fitzgibbons. It is unknown at this time what will be done with the space formerly held by the three departments in South College, Machmer and Bartlett.

“In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to improve classroom space all across campus with renovations, upgrades and the installation of learning technology,” said Fitzgibbons, “New classroom space will also support the campus’ growth strategy to boost enrollment.”

The amount of construction on campus between the new science building and the Southwest Residential Area is substantial, but Fitzgibbons said, “it falls into different categories; the new lab science building is intended to provide much needed lab space for advanced research. The Southwest project was part of ongoing plans to improve existing facilities.”

He continued, “The campus’ capital plan strikes a balance between maintaining and improving our current facilities and constructing new facilities that support both the teaching and research missions of the institution.”

The building is being built by Boston-based design firm Burt Hill.

Sam Hayes can be reached at [email protected]