Updating for Academics

A Methodist minister founded Spartanburg Methodist College (SMC) in 1911 as the Textile Industrial Institute. The facility was the nation’s first work/study co-operative and extended high-school classes to young adults who would alternate attending school one week while working the next in the area’s textile mills. A junior college curriculum was added in 1927. The name was changed to Spartanburg Junior College in 1942 and changed again in 1974 to the present-day Spartanburg Methodist College. The South Carolina school now is the state’s only fully accredited residential two-year college. The strong liberal arts curriculum, leading to an associate degree, prepares more than 80 percent of the current 800 students to advance to four-year institutions offering bachelor’s degree programs, notes Colleen Perry Keith, Ph.D., SMC’s president since 2009.

As the college approached its Centennial Anniversary, the Board of Trustees implemented the primary recommendation of a Master Plan that called for an expansion of academic infrastructure to relieve a shortfall in classroom space, she says.

“Our academic facilities were adequate but tired and outdated,” Dr. Keith says. “We had done our best by installing whiteboards and projectors, but the learning space consisted mostly of small classrooms that were congested in many cases.”

Despite the fundraising challenge that confronts any two-year, private college, the ensuing capital campaign proved successful and led to Ellis Hall being built and dedicated last November (2012). The facility was the first new academic building on the 110-acre campus since 1967. The 48,000-sq.-ft. building increased the College’s academic space from 15 to 29 percent of the total physical plant. SMC’s seven student residence halls account for most of the balance. SMC’s administration can focus next on upgrading existing buildings.

“Ellis Hall provides a comfortable teaching and learning environment,” Dr. Keith adds. “I find a new synergy exists among our department faculty with offices there. It’s rather fascinating how this new building has influenced the whole process of learning here.”

Fulfilling a Wish List

Most educators would agree that the learning environment embodied in Ellis Hall would add tremendously to any college’s faculty morale, student achievement, and the recruitment of new enrollment. The preliminary planning and execution of this particular building program fulfilled the long-awaited wish list and viable solutions reached by the entire SMC project team, Dr. Keith says.          

McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture (MPS), an award-winning regional design firm with offices in South Carolina, was selected to design the two-story building. Pursuing USGBC LEED Silver certification, the distinctive building adds a new landmark that nonetheless respects the character of the college’s legacy structures. The contemporary environment within it incorporates the latest trends in building design, amenities, and learning technologies that instill both comfort and functionality.

On one side of the building, the plan arranges 10 760- to 1,040-sq.-ft classrooms along the outside wall on two levels to benefit from natural daylighting through nearly full-height tinted windows with a low-E glazing. These present a bright, comfortable environment instilled by the high ceilings, large windows equipped with a window-shading system, and direct/indirect pendant lighting. While the classroom floors are linoleum, carpet was installed in the office spaces.

Arts and an Auditorium

The two sides of the building are divided by a 3,000-sq.-ft., two-story Gallery whose interior walls are an exhibition backdrop equipped with a strip system to display student artwork on one side. The opposing wall is brick, with repetitive offset elements that allow shadows to play off a large double-slope skylight. This feature admits generous daylighting into both levels, which have clusters of contemporary upholstered seating. A monumental staircase connects the two levels along this central spine. Carpet was selected for the upper level atrium space, with polished concrete used at grade level.

The Office of Academic Affairs, conference areas, and English and Humanities department offices, ranging from 120 sq. ft. up to 180 sq. ft. in size, are logically massed on the two levels.

Gibbs Auditorium is the dominant space on the grade level of the Fine Arts side of the building. The outside wall of the auditorium facing the atrium comprises the exhibition backdrop for the Gallery. Also included on this side of the building are the Art and Acting studios and the Chorus room, all associated with SMC’s new Fine Arts major. The dual-purpose lecture/performance auditorium presents a 3,100-sq.-ft. wood proscenium stage and backstage area, dressing rooms, Green Room, and two shop/storage spaces.

The Gibbs Auditorium has 221 theatre seats stepped in two elevations, and enough floor space to add another 30 removable seats and to accommodate wheelchair seating. Smaller classroom groups can thereby use the lower seating for closer proximity to the stage. The main stage curtain and upholstery are in the College’s iconic blue color that shows well in the mix of direct and indirect lighting. The auditorium’s broadloom carpet has elements of the grey walls and blue seating, along with the earth tones carried inside off the two tones of the lobby floor’s polished concrete. A radial band of virgin maple girds the auditorium’s seating area below 10 two-unit sets of curve-shaped sound diffusers and a catwalk system immediately above them providing access to the stage lighting and control booth. The walls are drywall in a grey finish over concrete masonry unit (CMU) construction.

The 3,038-sq.-ft. lobby of the Gibbs Auditorium has served several times as an event venue. The lobby’s wood ceiling, contemporary linear lighting, and use of stone play off the building’s exterior wood soffitt, the earth tones of the polished concrete floor, and the brick and stone exterior and interior.

Sustainable Features and Finishes

In step with LEED criteria, many of the finishes and materials were sourced within 500 miles of the project. One might have expected the quality engrained in this building and LEED certification to have commanded a higher cost, but recessionary pressures drove down pricing to within competitive levels. In fact, the entire materials, color palette, and finish specifications were achieved as originally proposed by the architects without resorting to alternates to stay within the $11M budget. 

Jim Ladesich is a freelance writer specializing in design and construction topics.



Take our survey!