Enthusiasm grows for new Mack Hall building

Example image of Mack Hall created for proposal before the actual construction. Picture by Norwich University

“I really think that Mack represents an opportunity for Norwich to open up more to the outside world, to say to everyone, and most importantly the surrounding community, come in and see what we are doing”

Those words come from Jeff Casey, a Norwich University English professor and the director of theater, who is eagerly embracing the modern new theater/auditorium that is located inside Mack Hall.

He sees Mack Hall, just opened this fall, as making a significant statement, a view that finds agreement from others on campus as well.

The $24 million project that constructed 51,300 square- foot Mack Hall symbolizes opportunity, according to Casey. “We can bring the alumni and we can bring the community in, which is something that we are working on in the theater. We can bring all of these people together.”

In his view, students and the local community could come together to see a speaker, participate in a conference, watch a movie, or see a play in the 400-seat auditorium – which replaces the dark and outdated Dole Auditorium in Webb Hall that used to be home for theater.

To Casey, there could be many opportunities in the future that are not limited to the theater program alone. Other teachers agree.

“Two of my classes are in there, and certainly I am benefiting from it. The rooms really are a pleasure to be in,” said Kate Donley, an English lecturer. “Over time we are going to be able to really take advantage of the active learning spaces that are wired for technology, that’s suitable for active learning.”

Donley was optimistic about the potential for enhanced learning. The new technology in Mack Hall has the ability to make both teaching and learning more accessible.

“I think it’s a campus building we can all rally around. It’s a beautiful, educational, and technical space, and I’m excited about it,” said Donley.

Mack Hall follows the renovation of Ainsworth Hall in 2017 that began extensive work on the northern end of the campus. It is the new home to both the humanities and business management departments, as well as to high-tech cyber-security classrooms. There are 15 classrooms, 22 offices, and four conference rooms inside Mack Hall. Increasing both classroom space and office space was a prime goal, according to Bizhan Yahyazadeh, Norwich University head of facilities.

“The idea of increasing both classroom and office space started about seven years ago,” said Yahyazadeh. He explained that the school created a committee consisting of faculty members, dean of the schools, provost, IT department, and facilities operation, drawing people “from all four corners of the university.”

Everyone gathered together to discuss academics and other improvements the university wished to make. The university’s Capital Campaign was used to help raise money for the project said Yahyazadeh, explaining that the majority of the funds were received by donation from generous alumni, especially Bob Mack, whom the building is named after.

“Mack Hall was born by ideas, and many, many, many, meetings, and interviews,” said Yahyazadeh. The process involved gathering “everybody’s opinions, and then we designed the building,” he said.

Creating a brand-new academic building is easier than renovating existing buildings like Dewey or Webb Hall. The ability to put whatever people needed inside was simple, because nothing previously existed there. However, it sparked a lot of conversation among everyone involved in the project, Yahyazadeh said.

“We did not really have any logistical challenges,” said Yahyazadeh, but he says a lot of debate took place.

Yahyazadeh emphasized that the debates were important in discussing how they would meet the needs of the building and academic programs within the budget of the project. In other words, making sure everyone’s voices are heard and their most important needs were met was a challenge, full of tough decisions.

“The original discussion started with Mack to be connected to Webb. After investigation by architects, engineers, and code specialists, it was proven to be highly expensive and not functional based on our need, so Mack became a single building,” Yahyazadeh said. “As you can tell today, the distance between Mack and Dewey is not much, therefore, traveling between these two buildings wouldn’t be problematic in the winter time.” Yahyazadeh said.

Donley agreed that convenience is important in creating a building that suits everyone’s needs. However, a connection between Mack and Webb Hall was not something she had thought about. While many professors’ offices are located on the top floor of Mack Hall, it isn’t an issue for her to have to walk outside between buildings.

Now completed Mack Hall, part of the “Forging the Future” project. Picture by Stephanie White

“Gosh honestly, I haven’t thought about it. But I’m used to walking all over for my classrooms, so I honestly like seeing the campus and moving around between classes,” Donley said.

Students were not shy about making their voices heard when it came to changes on the Norwich University campus and Mack Hall was no exception. “Well, at first, I thought it was a waste, but now that I’ve been in it a few times and used it, I see the value in its construction – as well as it being a symbol of Norwich and their commitment to the students, and making improvements,” said Talon Wendel, a criminal justice major.

Now, Wendel sees Mack Hall as an opportunity to open the doors to the community, so that they too can participate in events, and see what’s happening at Norwich.

To Benjamin Zacher, a communications major, the opening of Mack Hall symbolizes advancement into the future of Norwich. “This is going to be kind of a strange time for the university with President Schneider retiring, and a lot of the administrators leaving,” Zacher said. “So, it leaves the future kind of vague, and it’s just nice to see that Norwich is taking initiative to keep their step moving forward.”

Zacher recently participated in a social hosted by Norwich that brought the local community in to experience Mack Hall. The Norwich University radio station also set up a spot to broadcast in Mack Hall. That created even more opportunity to bring everyone together.

“Having the community see that Norwich is still being up to date, and they want to get people involved is really, really special, especially trying to branch out,” said Zacher. “I think Mack Hall is a beautiful start to something that could be really special for this campus.”

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