Budget constraints permit less than half of projected learning space renovations

A classroom in Eaton Hall is pictured on Feb. 20. Ann Marie Burke / The Tufts Daily

A 2014 study on the status of learning spaces on the Medford/Somerville campus found that over 200 classrooms and other spaces needed renovations over five years. In the years since, however, only 68 have been upgraded due to the available budget, according to Senior Campus Planner Heidi Sokol.

Sokol said the goals of the 2014 study included a learning space physical assessment, stakeholder market research, space utilization assessment, analysis of administrative and scheduling processes and recommendations for learning space improvements and associated cost estimates.

 Paul Bergen, educational technology and learning spaces director, explained that Tufts worked with a consulting firm to examine environmental factors, furnishings and capacity, among other qualities in these learning spaces. Over the past five years, as the project has continued, emphasis was placed on community engagement to inform renovation goals. 

“The study was designed to help us prioritize upgrades to physical conditions, optimize space utilization and scheduling policies, and to be sure as many of our classrooms as possible are equipped to support modern pedagogical practices,” Bergen wrote in an email to the Daily.

Alicia Russell, former associate director of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, explained that pedagogical goals were prioritized by the faculty learning committee that focused on learning spaces.

Russell said that learning spaces should allow students to actively engage with content, include a range of technology to support different ways of teaching and learning and promote engagement between peers and the instructor.

Eight rooms were selected for renovation in 2020 across East Hall, Mugar Hall, the Cabot Intercultural Center, Olin Hall and Tisch Library, according to the Learning Spaces Planning and Upgrades website. The Learning Spaces Planning Group is working with Jones Architecture to continue its goal of improving learning spaces on the Tufts campus.

Sokol said construction in these spaces will begin the day after commencement this summer.

“Learning Spaces Upgrades 2020 is under design, and will soon be bid to contractors within the month,” Sokol said. “[For] Learning Spaces Upgrades 2021, learning space identification is ongoing with the Working Group [and] a set of spaces will be determined by mid-summer.”

Sokol further explained that some of the goals to be focused on for the improvement of these learning spaces included fixing the seating arrangements to right-size the classrooms for the amount of students, improving the furniture, replacing and adding different writing surfaces and upgrading the lighting in the classrooms.

Russell noted that student and faculty feedback is welcomed to improve upon previous work and to apply it to future projects. She added that a questionnaire is released following the completion of a project to see how well it met the participants’ goals.

Bergen said after Lois Stanley, former director of campus planning, left Tufts in 2019, the process of renovating learning spaces around campus has continued unaffected. 

“We’ve increased the faculty engagement with the work group itself,” Bergen said. “And, we continue to improve our processes and procedures.”

Other than the selection of learning spaces to be renovated after the conclusion of this academic year, the Learning Spaces Planning Committee is not looking towards any new construction projects in the future, according to Bergen.

With respect to the state of Eaton Hall, which suffered ceiling damage in January, Bergen said that two rooms in Eaton Hall were renovated under this project two years ago, but the challenge remains that the needs of the classrooms exceed the resources available to upgrade them.

Russell explained that the renovation project is an ongoing process that has to maintain a balance between the available budget and the needs of different disciplines.

Tufts has not been able to afford to do all of the spaces that needed to be done,” Russell said. “Even when you’ve completed a space, it’s a rolling process so that by the time you complete a set of spaces they need to be done again … It’s just ongoing so I think there will always be things that need to be done, but I think Tufts has made a lot of progress.”