JACKSONVILLE, Fla.– Revitalization, restoration and resurrection are practically synonymous with new furniture and aesthetics.
“Hey, how are you doing sweetie,” resident assistant Kiana Blaylock, 20, greeted one of her residents, who had stopped by to talk to her at the Williams Hall main desk.
Blaylock, like five other resident assistants, helps to create the welcoming environment Williams Hall offers as soon as you walk in the door. Residents are greeted with a smile and hello. In some cases, residents beat them to the greeting.
“Shifting the identity of Williams Hall and how students may perceive the building is something really exciting,” Associate Dean of Students Luke Morrill said.
Williams Hall, constructed in 1965, cost $5.9 million in renovations for the 2017 school year, according to Jacksonville University website. It’s one of many renovations that has taken place on campus in recent years. The Swisher Library and Riverview Café have also been transformed into modernized spaces for students to comfortably interact.
Morrill believes such renovations help to optimize the university.
“Different factors played into the renovation of Williams complex, including having conversations with university leadership such as admissions, the president, and financial affairs,” Morrill said. “In the next several years we anticipate a larger number of incoming students. This would increase the on-campus housing population. We also would like to continue investing in university retention efforts. Students staying on campus longer, and larger incoming classes, all contributed to us saying we need more residency.”
Campus interaction appears to be something that Jacksonville University is focusing on for students. Without it many students would not recognize the university as a second home.
“The renovations were intentionally made for community-building,” said Jennifer Guerrero, Residential Life Coordinator. “There’s quite a few common area spaces as well as study lounges that can promote interaction between students. That can also create more involvement and engagement.”
In addition to creating comfortable living spaces for students, JU realized community-building would not be complete without a space for students to bond over food and drinks.
“We said, ‘How can we really reshape what this dining experience looks like when a student walks in?’ said Morrill. “In addition to doing some cool aesthetic pieces and having the opportunity to give the dining hall a face lift, we did some structural pieces as well. We redesigned the space so that the flow of traffic is much more efficient and students feel as though they can access different spaces of the dining hall easier. We also created different seating options so that hopefully students feel like they can utilize the dining hall in a more efficient way.”
Although the dining hall and residential quarters offer students places to enhance their social life, other spaces such as the Swisher Library offer students a place to focus on their studies.
“When I first started here, this physical space looked completely different,” said Jessica Collogan, director of the JU Swisher Library, as she pointed to the common study area on the second floor. “There were these grey metal shelves that took up so much space. So, we started to take them out to create space for students to study. That was one of the main requests we were hearing from students.”
Some of these new study spaces include couches and chairs that sit low to the ground. The chairs can be moved to small console tables or other areas around the library.
“I always think about how students can interact with the space and furniture,” Collogan said, pointing to crisp, new furniture just added over the summer. “Over there we have tables, which I wanted to use for a more traditional library look where students can study. Over here it still matches, but it’s furniture that can be moved around.”
But with all of these renovations, many were concerned that Hurricane Irma would destroy the places on campus everyone worked so hard to restore. JU, however, received little damage.
“Some areas did receive flooding, such as the MSRI and rowing facility,” Morrill said. “The Swisher Gymnasium also received some roofing and water damage that they’re working to address. A lot of fencing along the athletic fields such as lacrosse, football, and soccer on the North side of campus received damage, but we were fortunate not to receive much structural damage to buildings.”