HCC continues to expand

LINDA CONNER LAMBECK

Article Last Updated: 08/10/2008 12:19:05 AM EDT

BRIDGEPORT — Hard hats are still required attire for those entering Beacon Hall, the building that will double space at Housatonic Community College this fall.

There is still carpet to lay, ceiling tiles to install and finishes to apply. On the first floor, the least farthest along, voices compete with the buzz of drills. Ladders rest against walls. Doors are still coated in plastic and there is a condensation leak that christened brand new carpeting.

Yet, the new $55 million building, financed by the state, will be ready when classes at Housatonic begin Sept. 2, according to both Paul McNamara, Housatonic's dean of administration, and Peter J. McCann, project manager for the state Department of Public Works.

McNamara already has a favorite space in the 172,500-square-foot addition: a corner, second-floor resource room with a great view of the Barnum Museum's dome and spiral roof.Several years in the making, Beacon Hall was built within the shell of what used to be a Sears department store. The existing building, to be called Lafayette Hall, opened 11 years ago and was built in the framework of the former Hi-Ho Mall.

Danile M. DeBoo, associate principal of Perkins Eastman, the Stamford architectural firm that designed the new space, seems most partial to the arced corridor that runs east to west through the second floor. Its walls are destined to hold a fraction of the college's treasured art collection under specially designed lighting.

DeBoo called the 17- and 19-foot tall ceiling heights in the three-story rectangular structure a wonderful palate upon which to create an attractive, functional space to meet the needs of a diverse student body.

"Millennium kids are used to a certain amount of amenities," said DeBoo.

They won't be disappointed.

The new space, built by Newfield Construction of Hartford, includes 30 classrooms, 10 computer rooms, a foreign language lab, the evening division and offices for three academic departments. There will be a bookstore on the ground floor that opens out onto Broad Street.

The second floor has a 450-seat events center. McNamara said the event space is not intended to compete with area hotels and won't be rented out as a public banquet hall. It's intended more for municipal and academic conferences. Any revenue would go to the college.

On the third floor is a student activities center that includes a recreation room, television room, lounge, study rooms, conference rooms and club space. The whole building will have wireless Internet capabilities and is coated in a thick, gray, textured carpet.

"I think its going to be a student magnet," said McNamara.

McNamara, point man for the new space, said more student gathering spaces are needed because the community college is enrolling more and more full-time students who hang around in-between and after classes.

When Housatonic moved downtown from its former location on Barnum Avenue in 1997, it had about 2,400 students, only 300 of whom were full-time. Now, one third of Housatonic's 4,800 students are full-time. College officials expect a jump in enrollment this fall. Registration is already up over last year.

The new space will allow the college to accommodate 5,500 students, maybe more. Two of three faculty office suites are designed in such a way that they can be converted to classrooms if needed.

The biggest plus, said McNamara, is that the college will be able to offer more classes at times when students want them.

Classes are already scheduled into the new space for the fall.

In addition to the latest technology, the classrooms will feature tables chairs rather than folding tablet desks, which prove harder to use for adults.

The new space will also have a distance learning lab designed to train staff in how to teach online courses.

On the first floor, there will be a women's center three times the size of the current space. There will be a satellite cafeteria, a foreign language lab and wellness center. Now a two building campus, there will be a bridge that joins the third floor of Beacon Hall to the fifth level of the parking garage.

Eventually, the two buildings may joined by a walkway.

DeBoo said the design also takes advantage of its location near Interstate 95. Commuters traveling by will be able to see into the windows on all three floors.

Once the addition is complete, the attention will turn to renovating and reconfiguring the existing space.

Walk-in registration for fall classes at Housatonic is under way, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, through Aug. 25. Online registration is accepted through Sept. 5. For more information, call 332-8556 or go to www.hcc.commnet.edu.