More space for group work, 360-degree projection screens that wrap around classrooms and a multimedia production suite are just a handful of the features that make Texas A&M University’s new Innovative Learning Classroom Building stand out from other areas of campus.
The three-story, 118,000-square-foot building, located near the Memorial Student Center and Kyle Field, became available to instructors and students at the start of the current fall semester, following two years of construction. The $85 million center that houses 2,200 seats across its 10 classrooms is built on the spot formerly called “The Grove,” where movies were played and Midnight Yell practices were held decades ago.
Chairman of the System Board of Regents Elaine Mendoza, University President Michael K. Young and Provost Carol Fierke celebrated the building’s opening at a dedication ceremony Friday. Joseph Pettibon, vice president for enrollment and academic services, opened and closed the event, and the Singing Cadets and Aggieland Mariachi performed as well.
“This building is a perfect representation of tradition meets innovation,” Fierke said.
A&M faculty and staff, Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson, representatives from Vaughn Construction and Perkins+Will architecture firm, which both worked on the building, made up the more than 60-person crowd that met in the building’s “large arena” or Room 113.
Thomas McKnight, professor and head of the department of biology, was on a committee that helped design the building, and now teaches a class with instructional assistant professor in biology Asha Rao at the new location. They both attended Friday’s event.
“When you walk in, it pumps you up and makes you very excited about teaching,” McKnight said.
The course McKnight and Rao teach is geared toward helping first-generation biology freshmen. It’s a class that Rao said includes community-building activities, which are made easy with the setup in the “active learning studio” that they teach out of. The classroom has several tables and chairs that allow for group work and room for instructors to walk to each student.
Additionally, Rao said the technology in the classroom is helpful and includes screens near the tables so students can easily see what the instructors are presenting.
As a train passed during an interview following the event, McKnight pointed out how quiet it remained inside; he said that’s a design feature meant to prevent the train from becoming a distraction during class and one that required multiple layers of materials in the walls to achieve.
Study space and classrooms fill the first, second and mezzanine floors; the third floor is home to the Office for Academic Innovation Multimedia Studio, the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Instructional Media Services Control Room.
Demand to use the building was high, Fierke said. Each instructor who is teaching out of the space had to submit a proposal and request outlining how they planned to use the technology in the classrooms. Fierke said every room was filled, but that some plans had to be rearranged due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to keep people physically distant from each other.
The smallest classroom in the building can hold up to 72 people, with the largest being a 600-seat room.
To commemorate The Grove, there is a wooden wall in the building made partly of trees that were torn down during construction. The art wall draws attention to events that used to take place at the location with large decorative lettering carved in spelling out things like “Yell Practice” and “Live Music.”
According to a plaque by the art wall, The Grove was a concrete stage area that stood from 1942 until 2003. It was a place for dances, orchestras and bands as well as roller skating, basketball, game nights and movies. In the 1980s, the plaque reads, The Grove hosted fewer events as festivities were moved to other areas of campus. The stage was torn down in 2003.
The new building that now stands in The Grove’s place is “forward looking and designed for the future,” Fierke said.
“So many institutions of higher learning like Texas A&M have prioritized retention, time to graduate and future career success for students,” she said. “But very few universities in the nation showcase this imperative with an investment of this quality, size, design elegance and future-oriented architecture.”