For decades, the William and Mary School of Education has been trying to train the next generation of teachers, conduct world-class research and collaborate with several projects in cramped facilities all over Williamsburg.
The Rita Welsh Literacy Center was located in the basement of a dormitory building. The graduate assistant-to-workspace ratio was six to one. Students had no common areas to meet, and vending machines offered the only sustenance for the entire department.
But the department is now stretching out in its new building, expected to be complete in time for the fall semester to begin on Aug. 25. About 100 employees are now under the same roof, occupying 113,000 square feet compared to the previous 26,000 square feet. Moving into the new building in the past several weeks only “made us realize how large we are,” said Virginia McLaughlin, dean of the School of Education, during a media tour of the facility on Tuesday.
The building is located on the 22-acre former site of the Sentara Williamsburg Community Hospital just off Monticello Road. The project was initiated in April 2008, when the General Assembly approved a bond measure that provided the college with $38 million to construct the new building; ultimately, the project cost $48 million to complete acquisition of the property, destruction of the hospital, design and construction.
On any given day when school is in session, visitors might spy four-year-olds taking part in research projects, undergraduate students mingling with graduate assistants and doctoral candidates, some past middle age, on their way to class. “The building will really support the notion of learning across a lifespan,” McLaughlin said.
Under its new roof, the School of Education houses classrooms, faculty offices, centers, professional development areas and a coffee shop. The department’s various projects and collaborations are also all gathered in one location for the first time, bringing together the Center for Gifted Education, Historic Triangle Substance Abuse Coalition, Math & Science Partnership, New Horizons Family Counseling Center, Project HOPE-Virginia, School Leadership Institute and School-University Research Network, Special Education Training and Technical Assistance Center and the STEM Education Alliance: Virginia Demonstration Project.
The building also serves as a new home for Literacy for Life, previously known at the Rita Welsh Literacy Center. The nonprofit program started as an entity of the college, but became an independent nonprofit in 1979. It serves more than 400 people a year, boosting literacy, math skills, English language skills, computer literacy and more. In its new space, the program has two study rooms, where learners can work alone or with tutors in cubicles with computers. Executive Director Joan Peterson said the organization can serve more people more efficiently now that the staff has 50 percent more space. “A lot of people will reap the benefits of this new office,” she said.
The building’s exterior resembles the traditional William and Mary style, with a Wren-inspired circular window on the third floor and Flemish bond brickwork. But the inside of the building is completely contemporary, and as up-to-the-minute high-tech as possible. Fourteen classrooms were constructed to be flexible with the classwork; tables and chairs all sit on wheels, enabling students to assemble into groups with minimal effort. Each classroom is outfitted with multiple monitor screens on the wall that students can plug into their laptops. Once connected, students will be able to share work and ideas with their partners or the class. Professors will instruct from smart carts that serve as technology epicenters for each classroom, giving teachers control of screens, projectors, computers and more.
Students will have access to the Technology Integration Center, where they can test ideas for incorporating technology into their curriculums, from asking learners to complete video projects to finding ways to utilize those pesky cell phones. They also have lockers for storage space, 417 parking spots to choose from and Graduate Assistants have their own desks, situated in “pods” outside professors’ offices.
The new School of Education was built to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Anything that could be recycled from the hospital site was kept and reused; a fern garden will be planted to absorb rainfall; the building contains all EnergyStar equipment; lights are set to motion sensors and toilets are low-flow. The school hopes to receive a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver rating.
Including the conferences hosted in the professional development center, the school educates about 20,000 educators a year. Until now, they were spread between disparate offices and conference rooms. But in August, the next wave of educators will settle into a new home worthy of the education program recently ranked 39th in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
“It will create all kinds of opportunities and efficiencies that we’ve never had,” McLaughlin said.