KU Today: Learned expansion project engineered to be state-of-the-art

New $65 million engineering building designed for collaboration, latest technology

The new Learned Engineering Expansion Project Phase 2 building, 1536 W. 15th St., will open to its first classes this fall. The 5 million, 110,100-square-foot facility features collaborative study spaces and “active-learning” classrooms to foster teamwork.

From the entryway to state-of-the-art classrooms to open hallway nooks, the new Kansas University School of Engineering building was constructed for collaboration.

“Both the instruction and the practice of engineering in the real world are going that way,” engineering dean Michael Branicky said. “We’re trying to reflect that.”

The new Learned Engineering Expansion Project Phase 2 building, LEEP2 for short, is the latest and largest in a burst of updates to KU’s engineering facilities.

The $65 million, 110,100-square-foot building at 1536 W. 15th St. — now the centerpiece of KU’s engineering complex — is connected to Learned Hall, Spahr Library, Eaton Hall and the Measurement, Materials and Sustainable Environment Center (M2SEC).

It’s part of an overarching engineering expansion project that saw the completion of M2SEC in 2012 and the Structural Testing and Student Projects Facility on West Campus in fall 2014. LEEP2 construction also included major renovations to Spahr Library.

Construction finished this summer, and LEEP2 will be open for its first classes this semester.

The new building was needed to accommodate more than 60 percent growth in student population and the addition of 30 new faculty members to work with those students, according to the engineering school.

Primary funding is legislative appropriations through the state’s University Engineering Initiative Act, Branicky said.

Daylight infuses the building through a number of glass walls and “light wells” — vertical tunnels extending from windows on the roof all the way to the basement level.

The building’s entryway is home to tables and chairs for groups, a coffee and snack bar and all the engineering school’s student services offices such as those for career placement, recruitment, retention, advising and scholarship.

“It’s like one-stop shopping,” Branicky said.

The building features six large “active learning” classrooms, Branicky said. Instead of spending class time listening to a lecture, the idea — also called the “flipped classroom” concept — is for students to read materials at home, then collaboratively discuss and solve problems in class.

The active learning classrooms feature group desks with monitors and microphones, capable of projecting students’ own work onto other groups’ screens. The six active learning classrooms vary in size from 60-person to 160-person, Branicky said.

“It’s more like a banquet room than it is a presentation room,” he said. “You can have that same group feel.”

Another lecture classroom, designed for aerospace engineering, features seats with two computer monitors apiece. The building also includes teaching and faculty labs with layouts that are flexible.

Throughout the building, open-air nooks in the halls are furnished with a handful of roller chairs each.

Students often spill out of class without having finished discussions, Branicky said, and such spaces provide a place for them to continue the conversation. They’ll also be good for pre-class prep work, and even waiting in the wings for job interviews with visiting professionals, common at the engineering school.

Collaboration in the new building isn’t limited to engineering students and their engineering peers, Branicky said.

Other departments are expected to use the “active learning” classrooms, and collaborative spaces are hoped to bring students of other disciplines into the mix, too. After all, potential future achievements like drones delivering packages require more than just the person building the robot to pull off.

“Those really take a multitude of disciplines to be able to build the things that we use on a day-to-day basis,” Branicky said.