Mabel Lee Hall (MLH) is part of a connected three-building complex that serves as the City Campus home of the College of Education and Human Sciences (CEHS).
The buildings include Mabel Lee, Teachers College, and Henzlik Halls. The three buildings function in unison, with connected corridors allowing CEHS students to flow between the buildings. MLH was built in 1970 and named in honor of Miss Mabel Lee, Director of the Department of Physical Education for Women. The building was initially designed as the Women’s Physical Education Building, but by 1975, MLH housed both the Men’s and the Women’s Physical Education programs.
In 1997, MLH was partially remodeled to incorporate academic classrooms and faculty offices. In 2003, as the result of a significant budget reduction, the K-6 and 7-12 endorsement programs in physical education were dropped from the curriculum. This eliminated the academic need for the gymnasiums and the pool by the newly forming College of Education and Human Sciences (CEHS). Today, MLH houses two gymnasiums, a swimming pool, locker rooms, a dance studio, two computer laboratories and five classrooms utilized by CEHS, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Honors College. In addition, 56 faculty offices, five conference rooms, 14 graduate student offices, and 10 research rooms are also in the building.
The overall building organization is centered around a concept of three neighborhood “clusters” or hubs: the Classroom Cluster, the Faculty Office Cluster, and the Building Heart, or Community Cluster. The arrangement of these clusters allows for smaller scale interactions within each of the clusters, while still promoting casual interactions across the entirety of the building.
The classroom cluster is situated at the south end of the building, achieving closest proximity to the center of campus and the adjacent Teachers College Hall and Henzlik Hall. The classroom cluster houses a 400 seat lecture hall and 10 classrooms ranging in size and programmed for a variety of teaching styles and arrangements.
At the north end of the building, the faculty offices distributed over 4 floors create departmental hubs with distinct identities. The large number of private offices in the program presented a challenge, and the proposed arrangement strategy aims to enhance natural daylight, avoid extremely long corridors of offices, and create neighborhoods of offices. The strategy for office arrangement has evolved as cluster areas which are arranged around shorter corridors which always have natural light and views to the exterior.
Located between the faculty and classroom hubs is the heart of the building, which serves as the primary entrance from the west plaza, opening to an energetic commons space deemed “The Living Room.” Two double-height commons spaces occupy the central area of the building, creating a collaborative, creative hub for students and faculty alike. The College will have dedicated space for all-college meetings, seminars, and special events in the flexible College Commons space.
An outdoor classroom is proposed on the east side of the building adjacent to the building’s primary commons space. Both movable tables and chairs and granite seat walls of varying lengths shall provide seating within the classroom. A frame of trees and perennials shall frame the classroom space, offering a richer plant palette than found elsewhere around the building. Granite stepping stones inlaid in the garden planting offer an opportunity for students to engage with natural elements.
The Mabel Lee Hall project will fully renovate the existing facility; infill open two-story areas, and explore an energy efficient and functional entry addition. Complete infill of floors in the two-story spaces are proposed for the north gymnasium and dance studio. A partial infill is proposed for the Women’s Gymnastics Room and construction of a lecture hall in the lower level pool is planned to create space for quality learning, teaching, and research.
The project will provide program-specific renovations on the four levels of the building to house classrooms, research space, group project rooms, and student-faculty collaboration space. Most importantly, the renovation will bring together faculty and students from three CEHS programs located in separate facilities — Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education (TLTE); Child Youth and Family Studies (CYAF): and the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools (CYFS).
Early in the Programming Verification phase, the design team studied a series of organizational strategies to increase the possibility of collaborative interactions between the faculty, students, and visitors. The design team heard from the users that often the departments within the College were siloed and operated as separate units, instead of as operating as a unified College. The floor plan’s strategic placement of offices, conferencing areas, and student collaboration spaces aim to enhance communication and collaboration among faculty and students. Formal, enclosed breakout rooms are scattered throughout the floor plan, allowing students to form smaller groups within close proximity to classrooms, while dedicated commons space at the heart of the building functions as the crossroads for students, faculty, and visitors alike.
The Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools (CYFS) has a very public, outwardly facing component to their work, with many visitors and research grads. For this reason, the design team proposed placement of the department on Level 0 to the north side, giving increased visibility and connection to the public.
Demolition of the existing Mabel Lee Hall is now complete, setting the stage for the construction of a transformational new learning space designed for educating the next generation of teachers. A centrally located Living Room space will serve as the energetic hub for faculty and students, and classrooms are programmed for a variety of class sizes, teaching styles and arrangements, all centered around core values of adaptability and flexible technological integration. Construction is scheduled to be complete in the spring of 2022. Check out a live view of the progress here!
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