Coming soon: Voigt Science Hall makeover

Staff Writer

Built in 1965, Voigt Science Hall is trailing behind the growth of the science and technology programs here at McKendree University. Voigt, like most of the buildings on campus, has a history with students for generations, but McKendree administration says it’s time for a makeover.

In May of this year, McKendree announced “Forward: The Campaign for McKendree University,” which marked the beginning of a comprehensive capital campaign. The campaign goal was set at $40 million, making the Forward Campaign the most ambitious capital campaign McKendree has ever undertaken, following up the funding and construction of the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts.

Four years ago, the Board of Trustees made the decision to raise the money for some of McKendree’s biggest goals, and since then the campaign has been in the silent phase, according to Director of Major and Planned Giving, Whitney Strang. About the silent phase of planning, Senior Vice President Victoria Dowling says, “You talk to the people who are closest to you and get them excited about the project…then you go public with those plans.” According to Strang, the public fundraising period is expected to last a couple years more, but a large gift could move the project along more quickly. Even though McKendree has only just announced the campaign this year, donors have already furnished just over $25 million of the $40 million goal.

Why this enormous sum? McKendree’s administration has multiple goals in their sights. Not only is our university giving Voigt Science Hall a makeover, but they will also fund student scholarships, provide endowed faculty chairs, raise funds for campus-wide improvements and renovate Holman Library as well. This means two of McKendree’s main buildings are on the radar for huge updates. “The great thing about our campus is when we talk about renovating these two buildings [Voigt and Holman], they are buildings that every student will enjoy,” says Dowling.

According to a McKendree University press release, the number of students on the pre-professional biology track has grown by 100 percent in recent years. Likewise, the computer science major has been attracting greater numbers of students. The press release also stated that McKendree’s STEM program (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has been growing. Universities around the country have been pressed to meet the growth of their STEM programs. This shouldn’t be too surprising, as the demand for graduates educated in the sciences, including computer science and math, has increased. Our society has taken an enormous shift to focus on science and technology, which opens innumerable opportunities for students gifted in these areas to do what they love.

Consequently, students need access to increasingly sophisticated equipment and facilities. Higher powered technology requires greater electric output, and advanced courses in biology, chemistry, physics and more requires up-to-date lab equipment and facilities. In light of this, Voigt Science Hall just doesn’t keep pace. “Overall the building seems a little outdated,” says Sophomore Hudson Mitchell, a Pre-Professional Biology major, and most students would agree. Mitchell says Voigt’s fallout shelter is a neat aspect of the building, though it’s a strong indication that Voigt Science Hall is outdated.

“Our current building is challenged to handle the use of modern technology in science, placing stress on the electrical, plumbing and HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems,” says Dr. Michele Schutzenhofer, Associate Professor of Biology and Division Chair of the Division of Science and Mathematics. As instructors are moving towards modern equipment, a high electrical demand has been placed on Voigt, a demand the building wasn’t originally constructed to handle. One of the imperatives for the renovation project is to update Voigt’s electric, plumbing and HVAC capabilities.

Another difficulty is that there are not enough classrooms, labs or prep rooms. McKendree has increased the number of course offerings in science and math to accommodate the increasing number of science and math majors, but it’s a struggle just finding the physical space to host these classes. A further inconvenience, which Mitchell points out, is that faculty offices can only be accessed from inside the classrooms. The lack of space and access to faculty offices restricts the options for faculty-student collaboration and group studying.

Fortunately, the issue of space has been addressed in the renovation plans. Schutzenhofer says, “Redesigned lab space will allow the science faculty to integrate more modern technological advancements into lab and classroom experiences for McKendree students.” The repurposed space “will allow students to do more collaborative work, which has become very important in the sciences,” according to Senior Vice President Dowling.


The floor plans for the renovation of Voigt Science Hall. Photo credit: McKendree University Office of Development, Alumni and Parent Relations


To free up the space for improved equipment, group study rooms and more amenities, the university plans to create an entire addition on the north side of Voigt, where the main entrance is located. This addition will include a Grand Entrance, state-of-the-art classrooms and labs and a large lecture hall for guest speakers. Dowling says the new lecture hall will have scientific capabilities to allow for experiments to be conducted in front of a large lecture group.

According to a project summary created by the McKendree University Office of Development, Alumni and Parent Relations, “the renovation will feature dedicated space to be used as faculty-student research laboratories.” Currently, the rooms in Voigt are in high demand for a host of academic activities; the hope for these designated rooms is to improve research and collaboration capabilities that won’t interfere with teaching and other activities in the lecture rooms and labs. Notably, the renovation plans call for the addition of a rooftop observatory, yet another feature that will make Voigt Science Hall an excitingly new facility.

These huge plans for Voigt’s modernization came from many months of collaboration and hard work. President Dennis and a small committee composed of some administrative staff, Provost Chris Bahr and distinguished faculty members, such as Division Chair Dr. Schutzenhofer and Professor of Biology Dr. Robb Van Putte, have been collaborating with architects who specialize in reworking these types of buildings.

The committee has been strategically developing the plans for the new-and-improved facilities, and some members were even present at the campaign kickoff earlier this year. Recently, Schutzenhofer attended a workshop with Bahr and Sally Mayhew, Vice President for Administration and Finance, on 21st Century STEM Facility Design. There was a lot of valuable information to learn as the workshop included touring other institutions that have effectively renovated their science buildings to meet the demands of modern-day STEM programs. Schutzenhofer will provide valuable insight to further McKendree’s plans for Voigt: “I will be working with science faculty in the coming months to prioritize our building needs to not only accommodate our current students but to plan for future growth in our McKendree community.”

There is much to anticipate in the continual growth of our university. It seems new programs, student organizations and additions to the physical makeup of our campus have been taking shape and providing more opportunities for students to be fully engrossed in the things they’re passionate about. Dowling says, “We know that the completion of both buildings will have a huge impact on the campus, and we’re excited about that. We’re excited to bring that to students.”

It’s important for us to know that when the Forward Campaign successfully reaches a close and the renovations of Voigt Science Hall do take place, whenever that may be, it will impact every student and faculty member on campus, creating possibilities for further growth of McKendree’s science, mathematics and technology programs. Dr. Schutzenhofer emphasizes that “a renovated science building will make McKendree stronger as an institution as it helps us continue to attract high quality students and prepare graduates for dynamic and exciting careers in the sciences.”

Feel free to share your thoughts about Voigt’s renovation plans below in the comments. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for another installment about the renovation of Holman Library!

Cover photo: An artist’s impression of the exterior of Voigt Science Hall after the completion of the renovation. Photo credit: McKendree University Office of Development, Alumni and Parent Relations

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