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Renovating Auditoria for Contemporary Higher Education

Thompson Hall

LPA|A recently completed a study for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst that looked at options for renovating and upgrading an auditorium space in a building that dates back to 1966. Many older buildings on college campuses across the state are not meeting current standards on a number of fronts, including accessibility, energy efficiency, technology capacity, and ultimately, educationally.

Auditorium spaces are frequently used on most college campuses, providing a large and versatile learning environment, but strategic investments are needed to keep pace with evolving needs and teaching pedagogies. And UMass Amherst, with the second largest student body of any college in the state, has a high need for multiple large auditorium spaces to accommodate the scheduling of popular lectures across a range of disciplines.

LPA|A has undertaken a number of studies for colleges to assess existing auditorium teaching and learning spaces. In addition to Thompson Hall at UMass, the firm provided the study for Worcester State University’s Sullivan Auditorium which is now under construction and completed the renovation of the College of the Holy Cross Hogan Center Room 519 a few years ago.

Buildings that pre-date the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) generally are not fully accessible without significant renovation. With colleges expected to be at the leading edge of equity and inclusion to remain competitive, investment in these large and frequently used spaces is critical to their mission.

Additionally, advanced technological capabilities are now a minimum expectation, so upgrading the infrastructure, IT and A/V equipment is often a key component of auditorium renovation projects. Once the renovated space in the Hogan Center was outfitted with a full complement of audio/visual technologies, it went from being an underutilized space to one of the most popular spaces for lectures, film presentations and other meetings.

The technological capabilities of these spaces can also allow for hybrid in person/remote interaction, providing opportunities for remote guest speakers and allowing greater accessibility for students with barriers to in-person daily attendance.

UMass Thompson Hall Auditorium Building behind Thompson High Rise

At UMass Amherst, high standards for energy efficiency have also been set and are expected to be met with every major building project. Earlier this year they announced a goal to have their campus be carbon zero by 2032, and so any project needs to take into account that ambitious goal.

While the study for UMass may not end up leading to a renovation of their existing space, these studies encompass critical steps in the process of determining the best path forward, uncovering all the potential challenges and opportunities so that campus leadership can make informed decisions to best meet the needs of their community in this rapidly evolving arena.

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