The previous Conservatory building undergoes eco-friendly renovations.
Since mid-August, chain-link fences, construction signs, dumpsters and heavy construction equipment have surrounded McAlister Hall, a brick building with white columns located next to Pierce Chapel on the west side of campus. For the first time in 60 years, the building is getting a renovation as it prepares to become the new home of the Department for Modern and Classical Languages after sitting vacant for more than five years.
Completed in 1962, McAlister Hall was named after William H. McAlister by request of his daughter, who donated a portion of her estate to its construction. The building originally housed the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music. After the conservatory relocated to the first Armerding Center upon its opening in Nov. 2017, McAlister was left unused and could not be repurposed for other majors or programs. Full of practice rooms and teaching studios, the space was specifically designed to accommodate music students.
According to Jay Bieszke, the director of campus facilities, “funding for the renovation of McAlister comes from a combination of sources: gifts, proceeds from a past real estate sale, energy rebates from improvements we are making, and a small amount of debt.”
Bieszke said the remodel will improve both the building’s functionality and aesthetic appeal. The renovations to McAlister include converting the building’s steam-based heating system to a water-based system, as well as updating the electricity and plumbing systems. Bieszke said these changes will lower costs, improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
While nationwide supply chain issues may cause delays, Bieszke said the project is expected to be completed by next spring.
“Modernizing the building to meet the present code presented several challenges for the design team,” said Randy Norbeck, the director of construction services. Norbeck said the college construction staff worked with FGM Architects and Mortenson Construction to balance the need for academic use of the building with the desired total cost and an awareness of sustainability.
Most of the building’s changes are on the interior. “The exterior will not be very different,” said Whitley Grey, the assistant facilities director of planning and design. “We are striving to maintain the existing character of the building exterior. The interior is being completely refreshed with a new configuration and finishes.
Following completion of the project, the languages department is slated to move from Wyngarden Hall to McAlister in time for the 2023-24 school year. When this transition is complete, Wyngarden will be demolished.
Bieszke explained that, due to Wyngarden’s outdated layout and disorganized configuration, the college chose to move the languages department to McAlister rather than remodel Wyngarden.
Built in 1956 as the Student Health Center, Wyngarden welcomed the modern and classical language department on the second and third floors in 1983, in addition to the department’s occupancy of the first and third floors of Schell Hall. After the Student Health Center relocated to North Harrison Hall in 2016, the languages department was left as the only tenant.
The modern and classical languages department, which has 18 faculty, offers majors and minors in classical languages (with classes in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin), Chinese language and culture, German, Latin American and Latina/o studies, French and Spanish. About a third of students who double major choose a language as one of their majors.
As language students can attest, language classes are held in multiple different buildings, such as Blanchard and Wyngarden. Shannon Posthuma, a senior studying classical languages and French, has enjoyed getting to know students from other departments as her professors hold classes in multiple buildings, yet she also expresses excitement about McAlister’s reopening.
“I think being in a new building can help to connect the department more,” Posthuma said, “and students and professors will hopefully have a common space that brings cohesion.”
Sophia Sosa is a freshman English Writing major and a guest contributor to the Record.