University in the making Construction activity transforms campus

Everything old is new again following a renovation and expansion project at Houston Hall, the oldest structure on the campus of what soon will become Colorado Mesa University. The work included a new entryway. A $182 million worth of construction has occurred at the university since 2006. (Business Times photo by Mike Moran)

While the construction industry in Mesa County has been an up-and-down proposition over the past five years, an island bordered by Orchard and North avenues and 12th and 7th streets in Grand Junction has been the scene of nearly non-stop activity.

From new dormitories to a new college center and from an expanded fieldhouse to a new parking garage, the Mesa State College campus long has featured construction workers toiling alongside professors and students.

The newest project on campus also happens to involve the oldest structure on campus. A refurbished and expanded Houston Hall is scheduled to reopen in mid-August. Located near the intersection of North Avenue and 12th street, the building features a more architecturally impressive entryway, matching brick tones that help an addition blend in with the original structure, large lecture rooms with updated technology, student study and lounge areas and windows, lots of windows.

“Interestingly enough, the side that faces North Avenue had windows that were covered up,” says Dana Nunn, director of media relations for the college.

The windows, which had been covered by brick, now feature glass to supply ample natural light in nearly every room. While the large lecture halls were devoid of windows in the past, the new and refurbished halls feature plenty of light.

The brighter atmosphere augments updated technology that enables professors and students to use the Internet, PowerPoint and DVDs for instruction.

The $15 million Houston Hall project encompasses 65,000 square feet, including an addition that covers nearly a quarter of the space. Combined with a new dormitory scheduled to open on Bunting Avenue before September, the projects are part of $182 million worth of construction that’s occurred since 2006, the year Tim Foster took over as college president.

“The college hasn’t had this much construction since Dr. William Medesy was president (from 1963 to 1970),” Nunn says.

Houston Hall will feature two lecture halls that can accommodate 100 students, six halls that can hold between 40 and 80 students and 16 classrooms designed for 25 to 30 students each.

The entryway on the north side of the building has been shifted to the center of the structure, with a more grandiose design than previous entryways located at the ends of the building. The college wanted to retain the traditional appearance of the campus’s original building, Nunn says. “We wanted to preserve the history while bringing it up to snuff.”

Student lounges and a small cafeteria will offer students services that can help them study and eat without leaving the hall if they have a break between classes. Students previously would visit the library or main cafeteria between classes. As the campus expands, it’s helpful to offer students the new option, Nunn says.

Another step in expanding the boundaries of the campus is planned near the intersection of 12th Street and Orchard Avenue, where the college expects to soon begin construction on an apartment-style dormitory on land currently owned by Community Hospital. The project is part of the college’s planned purchase of the hospital property. It’s expected the hospital will move to a new facility planned for construction near the intersection of G and 23 1/2 roads. As of press time on July 26, the hospital board of trustees had yet to vote on the land sale.

The larger picture for what on Aug. 10 officially becomes Colorado Mesa University includes plans to ultimately expand the campus west to Seventh Street.

Officials are negotiating with property owners to purchase property that could clear the way for more academic and dormitory buildings. The expansion could take two or three decades, though, and remains contingent on such unknown factors as student enrollment, the economy, government tax collections and the ability of prospective students to pay tuition.