Undergraduate and graduate students have frequented Merrifield Hall for nearly 100 years. Most recently, the historic building has been the home of departments such as Philosophy, Languages & Literatures, English and Theatre Arts.
While the exterior of the historic building has aged gracefully, some aspects of Merrifield have started to show their age.
Thick walls that inhibit Wi-Fi from reaching classrooms, limited accessibility of the stair-heavy interior, and dark hallways have dated the building’s interior. These issues have required updates to meet modern educational standards.
As part of a $50 million renovation grant, the building is undergoing a revamp, complete with future-proofed technologies, updates to accessibility, and modern educational spaces to bring the building into the 21st century.
Along with new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps and entrances, Merrifield will receive a comprehensive interior overhaul, with large windows to allow natural light to replace the dimly lit hallways and classrooms.
“I think that the new building is going to be very welcoming to current and prospective students,” said Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “The building itself is going to feel very modern inside, aesthetically and technologically.”
Two experimental classrooms are among the most intriguing introductions to Merrifield. Designed with flexibility in mind, they include cutting-edge technologies, as well as conveniences such as charging ports at desks and tables.
“We’re leaving the ceilings in the experimental classrooms open so we can swap out screens and adapt the classroom to suit different teaching and learning needs,” Rundquist said. These rooms will be open to departments outside of Arts & Sciences, as well.”
Faculty and staff lead the way
The redesign was driven largely by faculty and staff, Rundquist said. Representatives from each department in Merrifield met directly with architects to discuss the possibilities for each room in the building.
“Our faculty and staff contributed to conversations about classroom sizes, furniture and accessibility measures,” he added. “We wanted the opportunity to talk about the specific needs the classrooms would have to facilitate certain styles of teaching.”
Plans are also in place to make Merrifield a more hospitable place for students to congregate and study. In addition to a new lobby on the east side of the building, Rundquist mentioned that a suggestion from a faculty member led to the addition of a “language cafe,” where students can practice foreign languages in a casual, conversational way.
“The idea for the cafe was brought to us by Sarah Mosher, a French instructor in the Languages & Literatures Department,” said Rundquist, adding that it’s modeled after a Parisian cafe. “Involving faculty in the design process has led to a lot of great perspectives on teaching and learning.”
The faculty design team recently finished choosing classroom and communal furniture, going directly to manufacturer showrooms to test models. Rundquist says that a lot of care was taken to ensure that everything is comfortable, accessible and modern.
Keeping things familiar
The building’s rejuvenation doesn’t mean losing its old-school charm, though. On the contrary, Rundquist said there was a concerted effort to retain the classic look and feel of the building while simultaneously updating it with modern perks.
“Merrifield is an important building for students and alumni,” he said. “We’ve taken a lot of care to preserve the features that people are really fond of.
“I got a lot of informal feedback from alumni about what aspects of Merrifield were important to them. That’s made it a really interesting project to work on because we wanted to keep it as a touchstone for alumni who come back to campus while also looking to the future.”
And while there will be substantial improvements, building staples such as its iconic gargoyles, as well as the terrazzo flooring, will remain intact.
The century ahead
As Merrifield’s renovation progresses, the University is looking ahead to fundraising efforts for Twamley, the other component of the Merrifield-Twamley project, with a new committee of faculty assisting in the design of that project. Soon, a skywalk will connect the building as a convenient way for students to move freely between them during the frigid winter months.
With the renovation’s planned completion date in August 2024, the college and University are hopeful that Merrifield’s modernization will retain its status as a campus staple far into the future.
“It’s wonderful to see the Merrifield renovation project underway, with crews hard at work preparing this important and historic building for generations of students to come, all while maintaining ties to its long and proud history on campus,” said Eric Link, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
Link continued: “With renovation well underway, and construction fences surrounding the building, we know we are one step closer to reopening the doors of Merrifield Hall for teaching, innovation and research for the next year, decade and century.”