Modern and Classical Languages Department Moves to McAlister Hall, Wyngarden Hall Demolished 

The former Conservatory building is now a renovated, permanent home for the Modern and Classical Languages Department.

For the first time in six years, students are taking classes in McAlister Hall. 

Located next to Pierce Chapel on the west side of campus, McAlister was blocked off by chain link fences and dumpsters for the duration of the 2022–23 school year as it underwent its first major renovation in 60 years. 

Wheaton College remodeled the former Conservatory building’s interior, and the modern and classical languages department moved into their new home after the completion of the renovation in the spring. The department’s former home, Wyngarden Hall, was demolished after the move, and a patch of dirt now stands in its place between Schell Hall and Armerding Hall. 

Wyngarden was built in 1956 to house Student Health Services, which is now located at North Harrison Hall on the north side of campus, on Harrison Street. The layout, originally designed to accommodate sick students, had no open spaces for students to congregate when the building was repurposed. Several offices had adjoining bathrooms, but there was only one bathroom for public use, on the second floor. The building had one drinking fountain, and there was no elevator. 

President Ryken said the relocation of the language faculty and classrooms was long overdue. 

“Students and faculty have had to be patient for too long with facilities that were far from optimal,” Ryken said. “The new space honors the work of our language faculty, affirms the calling of their students, and makes the department a place to grow.” 

Last November, Jay Bieszke, the director of campus facilities, told the Record that the college chose to move the languages department to McAlister rather than remodel Wyngarden, due to the former building’s disorganized layout.

Whitley Grey, assistant director of facilities development, said that the goal of the project was to provide a designated, custom space for the languages department. 

“It was wonderful to be able to envision an entirely new home for them,” Grey said. “Knowing that this building would be the home for modern and classical languages, we wanted the interior finishes to reflect the energy and vibrancy that all of the various cultures and languages bring to the spaces.” 

The new McAlister Hall was designed and developed with input from the Wheaton College construction staff, FGM Architects and Mortenson Construction. Photo by Lilliana Taussig.

Grey worked with the college’s construction and facilities staff, as well as two local firms, FGM Architects and Mortenson Construction, to overhaul the former Conservatory building’s interior and convert it to a space that accommodates the languages programs. The first floor was reconstructed to fit some faculty offices, small study rooms for language tutoring, and a sleek student lounge. The second floor now has two large classrooms and a majority of the faculty offices.

Completed in 1962, McAlister Hall, located on the western edge of campus, originally housed the Conservatory of Music. After the Conservatory relocated to Armerding Center on the Quad when its first phase opened in November 2017, McAlister was left unused and could not be repurposed for other majors or programs. Before the renovation, the building had very little natural light, which Grey said prompted them to make natural lighting a priority for the remodel. The building was also full of practice rooms and teaching studios, as it had been specifically designed to accommodate music students.

The new building is customized for language learning, but two designated spaces on the first floor and the entire basement level remain unfinished, which Grey said was an intentional decision to allow them to be built out as future needs arise. 

Joshua Yoder, a senior biology and Spanish major, said the highlights of the building are the Language Learning Lab, a conference room for tutoring groups to meet, and the connecting student lounge on the first floor. 

“McAlister has more natural lighting and is much more colorful than Wyngarden was,” Yoder said. “It’s more than just a space for classrooms and offices. You can relax and study with friends. It’s comfortable; there’s coffee and candy. Wyngarden was darker, stuffier and closed off.”

McAlister Hall features a new lounge on the first floor for students to study in. Photo by Lilliana Taussig.

“Those types of things matter, like the water stations and the bathrooms,” she said. “It is the small environmental and accessibility changes that really make a difference – they are important for the success of students and faculty.”

Before moving into McAlister, language students and faculty were scattered across campus. Some faculty members’ offices were located in the now-demolished Wyngarden Hall while others’ offices were located next door in Schell Hall, another mid-century facility. Tamara Townsend, chair of the modern and classical languages department and associate professor of Spanish, said that she sometimes did not see her colleagues for weeks.

“For us as faculty, teaching in the same building as our office is like a dream come true,” Townsend said. “The students never saw you before; now students will recognize a professor just from seeing them pass through a hall in which they had class. I hadn’t thought of that; it surprised me.” 

Before the move, language classes were held in multiple different buildings in addition to Wyngarden and Schell, including Armerding and Billy Graham Hall. Some language classes are still held in other buildings throughout campus, but all language faculty offices are now in McAlister.

The new home for modern and classical languages comes after college-wide budget cuts last year briefly threatened some languages majors, which have since been saved. Akines acknowledged that seeing the McAlister renovations might be bittersweet.

“Other departments are feeling deeply about losses,” Akines said. “That is definitely something to keep in mind — and something to be careful about as we celebrate.” 

Bella McDonald

Bella McDonald

By way of Des Moines, Iowa, Bella McDonald is a senior business/economics major on the journalism certificate track. She enjoys writing poetry, collecting vintage magazine covers, and finding new (and old) books to read.

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