Volker Hall renovations will enhance, increase study space

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UAB’s plan to become the preferred Academic Medical Center of the 21st century — known as AMC21 — has seven priority areas focusing on some of the greatest medical needs of our time, including cancer, obesity, infectious disease, cardiovascular biology and other areas.

Robert Witherspoon (right), manager of facilities for the School of Medicine, examines plans for renovations in Volker Hall to add and update study space for students and revamp many lecture rooms.

But other key elements of the AMC21 plan include investing in infrastructure and technology platforms to keep the education of UAB students on the cutting edge.

That includes major renovations to Volker Hall Education and Research Towers.

Phase I on the project, a renovation of research space on floors one through four, was completed in fall 2010. Phase II includes a renovation of classrooms and updating the study space areas in the schools of Medicine and Dentistry. This phase, which includes new seating and audio-visual equipment in lecture areas, is under way, and all work is anticipated to be completed by spring.

“The School of Medicine leadership and I are very excited about the renovations to our educational space in Volker Hall,” says Ray Watts, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “This is one of the top priorities in our AMC21 Education Strategic Plan. We want our students to have the very best learning environment and opportunities available.”

Volker Hall is the School of Medicine’s primary teaching facility during students’ first two years of medical school. It houses the majority of classrooms, labs and other medical education resources of the school.

Robert Witherspoon, manager of facilities for the School of Medicine, says upgrading these areas is of prime importance for today’s students.

“The way the old space was laid out and what it provided was very dated,” Witherspoon says. “We started looking closely at our buildings this past year to see where the needs were, and we found many. Our students were just crammed for space. But we’re alleviating that problem now.”

As part of a partnership between the schools of Medicine and Dentistry, study spaces near the lecture rooms in the old Volker Hall tower are being completely remodeled and others are being added or renovated. When finished, students will have Wi-Fi Internet access, places on the wall to display their research posters, numerous outlets for computers and modern tables and chairs.

“One of the student complaints was that they didn’t have many places to go to study after or before their lectures,” Witherspoon says. “They wanted to come out of the lecture rooms and just have study space, quiet space and lounge space in this building.”

Witherspoon says the School of Medicine talked with several students prior to the renovations to get their input regarding design, colors and amenities.

“We wanted their feedback so we would have an idea of their needs and also what they would like to see in these areas,” Witherspoon says.

The third phase is scheduled to begin this spring on the second floor plaza, an outdoor area between the research and lecture halls that connects to the University Boulevard cross walk and the Learning Resource Center.

The plaza is a heavily traveled area, Witherspoon says, but right now it’s not much more than concrete. It’s strictly a walkway with no seating or other amenities.

“It’s really wasted space,” Witherspoon says. “Dr. Watts and the Provost Office put their heads together and came up with some ideas for how to use the space, and UAB architects produced some really nice renderings of those ideas. It will be a greener area with some shrubbery, and it will have tables and chairs. We’re hoping to start this project in the next couple of months and have it completed by August 2013.”

Three additional planned renovation phases will begin when funding allows.