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Spooner's new 'Commons' to encourage collaboration

One of KU's oldest and most venerable buildings will be remodeled to provide a space to encourage the exchange of ideas among faculty, staff, students and visiting scholars, and to share the ideas with the public.

Work is set to begin this month to renovate the Commons in Spooner Hall's first level. The renovation is a joint project of the Hall Center for the Humanities, the Biodiversity Institute and the Spencer Museum of Art.

"We always saw this as a space that could have as its focus the intersection of humanities, nature and art," said Victor Bailey, professor of history and director of the Hall Center. "It will be a multidisciplinary space. Hopefully, it can help get us out of the silos we sometimes find ourselves working in."

By encouraging collaboration among faculty from various disciplines, the Commons can be a place to launch ideas for new research projects, which in turn could lead to new external grants, Bailey said.

Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Biodiversity Institute, said the Commons is KU's response to the grand challenges facing society that will require bold, innovative thinking; research; education and solutions from across the arts, sciences and humanities. In many ways, Krishtalka said, the Commons will function as an interdisciplinary think tank for understanding natural and human systems and their reciprocal impacts.

Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of the Spencer Museum of Art, said the mission and activities of the Commons are intended to go beyond Spooner Hall and, ideally, to permeate the entire campus.

The space, located just inside the main entrance on Spooner's first level, will be used for meetings, workshops, symposia, town hall meetings, special classes, exhibits and public lectures. Last fall, the Hall Center and Biodiversity Institute launched the "Difficult Dialogues at the Commons" lecture series, which promotes discussion of sensitive and volatile issues in American society. Bailey said he could see the Commons as a home to the series in the future. It will seat 150 to 200 people, he said.

Physical work on the space will include installation of a new floor, an acoustic ceiling and upgraded electrical, lighting and data systems.

Future enhancements to the Commons include meeting-specific furniture, audio/video equipment, facilities for secure exhibitions and a perching bench for laptop computer use. The work will greatly improve the acoustics and lighting in the space, Bailey said.

Barry Newton, professor of architecture, oversaw the aesthetic and functional designs of the space, and Sabatini and Associates worked with Design and Construction Management on the architectural designs, keeping in mind the historic aspects of the building.

The Commons is the newest academic use of the historic building. Built in 1891, it was KU's first library and has housed an art museum and anthropology museum.

Work on the $500,000 project will begin this month and is scheduled to be completed by August. The work is funded by a contribution from KU alumni Jann and Tom Rudkin, the provost's office and a state tax credit for historic buildings.

Jordan Yochim, assistant director of the Biodiversity Institute, said the space will be open to units beyond the three collaborating on the project.

"Our hope is for this to be an intellectual space, not just a physical space," he said. "It's a way to bring people together. It's for all of us."

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