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UMW’s tech center is one of a kind

The newest building on the University of Mary Washington’s campus might resemble the rest of the 1908-constructed school on the outside, but walking inside is a step into the digital age.

The 76,718-square-foot Information Technology Convergence Center opens to students this fall. It has been in the works for six years, when the need for an extension of student services and a place to teach students how to use digital resources was realized.

On Tuesday, the board of visitors and university administrators toured the new building, which is situated on campus walk across from Simpson Library.

“It’s exciting to have been at the groundbreaking and now to see it open,” board rector Holly Cuellar said. “This is a place of distinction that will enhance the student experience here.”

The four-story building has some classrooms with computers at each desk. Other classroom desks are laptop-friendly and swivel and roll to make collaboration easier for students.

The classrooms have built-in technology for teleconferencing and filming lectures.

The first floor has a raised floor that will allow easy access to rewiring if it is needed, and the furniture is electric—meaning students can plug power cords directly into the chairs they are sitting in.

There will also be a Blackstone Coffee location in the building. It will open on the first day of classes, Aug. 25.

Below the first floor is a digital auditorium that is visible from an elevated walkway. The auditorium is equipped with screens and high-end projectors and can be set up in multiple ways.

Special Assistant to the Provost for Technology, Teaching and Innovation Jeffrey McClurken showed visitors this week how presenters can manipulate the seating, technology and lighting to fit their needs.

“The key here is flexibility,” he said. “This building is whatever we need it to be.”

Student services, including the writing and speaking centers, will be housed in the building, along with a third center for student development that is being launched this fall: a digital learning center.

The new center will teach students how to use technology that might be required in class. That includes video production, which will be possible with a high-quality lab.

For McClurken, who will oversee the building’s operations, opening a center like this is about teaching “the whole” student, and dispelling the myth that students come into college proficient in all digital tools.

“They don’t,” he said. “They know how to Snapchat. They know Vine. This pushes them out of their comfort zone and better places them than other institutions.”

The building connects with the library through a new third-floor hallway over Campus Walk. Students can research and study in both spaces without ever stepping outside.

The Information Technology Department and the Department of Teaching and Learning Technologies are also relocating to the new building.

McClurken said he’s not aware of another building like it at any liberal arts university. It was completed for about $39.5 million by construction company W.M. Jordan.

At most universities, services like those offered in the Convergence Center are split between a campus center and library.

Work is also underway on a new $43 million University Center on College Avenue. It is being built by Donley’s Construction and is on schedule to open in the fall of 2015.

The two buildings will then function together to serve most student needs. According to McClurken, academic services will be offered in the IT Convergence Center, with student life services in the University Center.

The 108,000-square-foot University Center will feature a dining hall, food court, retail store, meeting spaces, student lounge and offices for student clubs.

The center will have a columned entranced facing both Ball Circle and College Avenue. The latter will function “as a front door to the community,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Doug Searcy.

Crews are working on bricking and roofing the building.

How Seacobeck Hall, the current dining hall, will be used after the completion on the campus center is still undecided.

Still more construction is underway on the campus.

A $14.3 million renovation of Woodard and Mercer halls stepped into high gear this summer.

Woodard, which now serves as the campus center, will become the College of Business. And Mercer, home of the Office of Judicial Affairs and the Honor Council, will house the psychology department.

Both departments were displaced by the demolition of Chandler Hall in 2013 to make space for the Campus Center. W.M. Jordan is also working on this project.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976