The John E. Andrus Center for Public Affairs (PAC) and Art Gallery construction project broke ground on Tuesday, June 1. The project will remodel the PAC building and add a new art gallery between the PAC and Olin Library. According to Director of Construction & Infrastructure Alan Rubacha, abatement will be substantially complete by Friday, Oct. 1, with mass demolition concluding soon afterward.
The entire project, which will incur a total cost of $56.4 million, is estimated to be completed in the spring of 2024. The Economics, Government, History, Sociology, and College of Social Studies (CSS) Departments, which are typically housed within the PAC, have been relocated to various buildings across campus, including 318 High St., 330 High St., 212 College St., 37 Broad St., and 110 Mt. Vernon St.
“With future COVID-19 and weather variables unknown at this time our best schedule projection has the project completed and occupied for classes at some point during the spring 2024 semester,” Rubacha wrote in an email to The Argus. “We will have a better understanding a year from now.”
The current construction area at the PAC, which is blocked off with fencing to protect students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors and to allow space for the construction crew to safely work, will remain closed off until the project has been completed.
The proposal for the project was approved in October 2019 by the City of Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission. The renovations to the PAC, which was originally constructed in 1927 as a University residence hall, include the demolition of the two additions constructed on the east and west sides in 1954 and the plaza, which was constructed in 1984. The project will create a new three-story structure in the former plaza area, allowing the final updated PAC to house 15 classrooms, 67 faculty offices, six meeting rooms, two lounges, and the new CSS main office and library.
The new 5,400 square foot art gallery will display pieces from the Davison Art Center’s collection and student and faculty art installations. Though the art was initially scheduled to temporarily move to Olin in early 2020, the move was disrupted by the pandemic, and the collection is currently still entirely located at 301 High Street. According to Davison Arts Center Curator Miya Tokumitsu, the collection’s move to Olin is now scheduled for the spring or summer of 2022; the art will subsequently move to the renovated PAC.
For the academic departments that were relocated due to the construction project, the move to their new offices means their faculty will not be as physically centralized as they had been in the former PAC.
“Physically, one of the challenges is [that the Government Department’s] administrative office is here in this building [318 High St.] and our faculty are dispersed,” Government Department Chair Douglas Foyle said. “So there’s sort of a home here in 318, but there really isn’t a home office, as it were, anymore for the Government Department.”
Economics Department Chair Gilbert Skillman explained that while the Economics faculty has been primarily relocated to 318 High St. and 37 Broad St., with a few other faculty members at other locations, classes have been spread more widely across campus.
“Economics classes have been put wherever classroom space could be found, from Exley to Downey House to the Music Studios and everywhere in between,” Skillman wrote in an email to The Argus.
Foyle also spoke to the impact of the closure of the classrooms in the PAC until construction is completed.
“We’ve had to be a little more flexible in terms of course times,” Foyle said. “Physical classrooms are not available with PAC classrooms coming offline; there were so many classes there.”
For professors who are teaching this semester, relocation has been a minor disruption in terms of getting to class.
“It’s a little less convenient because you just can’t leave your office and walk right down the hall to your classroom,” Foyle said.
Skillman also mentioned faculty members’ longer commute from their relocated offices to their new classrooms, but explained that it was not a major difference.
“We’ve all primarily been affected by the time and effort involved in relocating from the PAC, and of course most of us now have to allow more time to get to our classrooms,” Skillman wrote. “Not a big deal.”
Unlike other departments, CSS Co-Chair and Chester D. Hubbard Professor of Economics and Social Science John Bonin explained that the CSS Department was able to relocate without spreading out across campus.
“We were very fortunate that the previous Chair of the CSS [Professor of History and Medieval Studies Cecilia Miller] was very involved in the planning process, and she arranged for us to move the CSS to 330 High St.,” Bonin said.
However, the construction project has limited the department’s ability to host events for majors, as the PAC used to house the department’s lounge and library. These events are typically an integral part of the community building between CSS students of each class year.
“We don’t have the ability to do what we could do in the PAC,” Bonin said. “We had a different space in the PAC, which allowed us to have things like Friday Social, and we had a lounge and a library—the students could congregate there. We don’t have that space anymore, so we’ve had to adjust.”
CSS major Chaiyeon Lee ’22 explained that the absence of the department’s central departmental space has impacted the group bonding that typically comes with the major.
“CSS really is [about] spending a lot of time together, studying together, writing our papers together, commiserating together…and that’s kind of what builds our community,” Lee said. “So not having a space that everyone can fit into, it really detracts from one of the most positive parts about CSS.”
The ongoing pandemic has also compounded the impact of the construction on the department, limiting capacity for both classrooms and indoor events.
“It really means that now those activities are pretty much weather dependent because we don’t have an indoor space that allows us to do that, and, as you’re well aware, right now the COVID protocols have all kinds of restrictions on what you can’t do indoors anyway,” Bonin said. “So we’re doing the best we can to recreate some of the aspects of the program that are quite honestly very popular both with the students and the faculty, but we’re not able to go the whole nine yards and do what we could do when we were in the PAC.”
Skillman raised the possibility that the construction will continue to inconvenience the Economics Department if COVID-19 restrictions are loosened before the renovation project is complete.
“Of course, the pandemic disrupts normal interactions anyway, but once it is past, the dispersion of our faculty offices across the campus and the corresponding loss of a convenient departmental meeting space will likely be an ongoing problem,” Skillman wrote.
Rubacha explained that lead contractor FIP Construction has implemented measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst construction crews working on the project.
“Our lead contractor, FIP Construction, is doing an excellent job protecting the University [from] COVID-19 disruptions,” Rubacha wrote. “For context, FIP Construction was in the process of constructing the Center for Film Studies phase 3 when the COVID-19 pandemic started. We never stopped, missed a day, or had a COVID-19 case on the job. Crews immediately began installing safety measures like hand washing stations, sub-contractor cohorts, and isolating work inside by trades before these were common practices.”
Skillman did not think the Economics Department’s new space in the renovated PAC building would differ greatly from the department’s former offices.
“I don’t think the remodeled space specifically allocated to the Economics Department (or any of the PAC departments other than CSS, for that matter) will be much of an improvement, if at all,” Skillman wrote. “But I don’t think it was intended to be.”
Foyle also noted that the eventual move back into the remodeled space for the Government Department will also necessitate another transition for faculty members.
“When we get into our new offices, they’re going to be smaller than our old offices for most of us, so you have to think about that transition too,” Foyle said.
Though the Economics Department has been inconvenienced by the construction, Skillman believes that faculty are generally in agreement about the long-term benefits of the renovation.
“I think we all understand that the PAC renovation is long overdue and that the renovated building will offer both improved classrooms and significantly expanded public spaces for student, faculty and staff interactions,” Skillman wrote. “Consequently, the relocations are accepted as a necessary inconvenience.”
Similarly, while the relocation of faculty has been disruptive, Foyle explained that he is looking forward to the remodeled PAC.
“Long-term, it’s a great thing,” Foyle said. “The old PAC was a converted dorm and it kind of felt like a converted dorm, so I think we’re all looking forward to the new PAC. I don’t think anybody liked cleaning their office and sorting and moving and everything, but it’s the kind of price you have to pay to get something that’s going to be really nice….We’re really looking forward to the project being completed.”
Jiyu Shin can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: The original version of this article mistakenly stated that the Davison Art Center collection was moved to Olin in 2019. While the collection was scheduled to move in 2020, the relocation did not take place due to the pandemic.