Collaborative learning inspires Spooner project

Workers with Eliason & Knuth, Kansas City, Mo., work on the ceilings in a former gallery space at Spooner Hall. The area is being renovated and named the Commons. It is a collaborative effort of the Hall Center for Humanities, Biodiversity Institute and the Spencer Museum of Art.

Kansas University is revamping one of its oldest buildings to make room for a place for the exchange of ideas and worldly knowledge.

The Commons, a large open space on Spooner Hall’s first floor, is being renovated and will be open to students and faculty starting this fall, said Jordan Yochim, assistant director of the Biodiversity Institute.

The project is a joint operation among the Biodiversity Institute, Spencer Museum of Art and Hall Center for the Humanities.

Spooner Hall was home to KU’s Museum of Anthropology, which closed to the public in 2002.

Yochim said the new Commons will be a place for students and faculty “to bridge the major cultural divides that seem to separate the population.”

Tom Thompson, a carpenter with Howard Stultz Construction, works on plastering damaged walls inside an open area in Spooner Hall. The room is being renovated and named the Commons.

Although the space is being renovated, Yochim said the historical building’s appearance will not change much.

“The renovations will bring the building not only up to code, but also up to modern standards,” Yochim said. “But we did everything to retain the beauty and history of Spooner Hall.”

The old space known as the commons had several deficiencies, said Victor Bailey, professor of history and director of the Hall Center. The acoustics were not sufficient and did not allow for lectures or classes to take place in the space, he said.

After the renovations, Bailey said he hopes the Commons will be a place for students and faculty to merge the topics of the arts, sciences and humanities to discuss important and relevant current issues.

Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of the Spencer Museum of Art, said she hopes the Commons turns into a space resembling a town square where people can congregate and share knowledge and research.

“I hope it provides a place that infuses an understanding of the connection of all the disciplines of arts, science and the humanities,” Reece Hardy said.

She said she hopes the Spencer Museum will help visualize knowledge, making it more meaningful and vivid to those who view the art. The Spencer Museum plans to have several displays from its collection of art and sculptures.

One of the main attractions for the new commons will be its availability for lectures and classroom discussions.

“The space allows us to actually host and bring the scholarship to the process,” Yochim said. “We are hoping it is a resource that will be used by all the university.”

Bailey said the space eventually will install new speaker systems and update the technology to allow for a more effective lectures and classes.

“It may be just experimental,” Bailey said. “But it’s an important and innovative attempt.”