Students returning to campus for the Fall 2018 semester found more than just a torn-up quad.
The Phillips Auditorium is currently out of commission as it undergoes a complete transformation. Renovations to the space will include more seating, better acoustics, and a modernized aesthetic. Construction is expected to conclude by September 2019. While the project has been in the works for years, fears of a toxic mineral substance called asbestos, once used as insulation, being released into the air may have added an element of urgency. John Powell, the project’s carpenter foreman, didn’t deny the possibility.
“When you have an old building at an old college, nine times out of 10 there will be a portion of asbestos,” Powell said. “You can’t rule it out and you can’t rule it in.”
The renovation project is already impacting campus life. For instance, this month’s Center for Constructive Alternatives lecture series will be held in the Searle Center, which seats 800 people compared to Phillips’ 350.
“Changes in venues always make things more complicated,” Matt Bell, Hillsdale’s Director of Programs for External Affairs, said in an email. “But we have lots of good people who are working hard to make the CCA a success. While there are some challenges, it is a good problem to have.”
Nevertheless, while the renovation may be advantage for the college, the auditorium’s closure creates complications for students.
Junior Karissa McCarthy is a member of the InterVarsity Prayer Ministry Team and leads their 24-Hour Prayer event, which has been held in Phillips for the past seven years. With the renovations, she’s unsure where the event will take place this fall.
“We need a common space where students can spread out and that’s equipped for live music and instruments,” McCarthy said. “It also needs to be accessible at any time. Searle is big, but it’s too fancy for our purposes. Phillips was really good because security was willing to keep it open late at night for us.”
The construction has also affected the Wiegand Computer Lab, which has been shut down while the renovations take place. The lab was a go-to study spot for some students, who are now having to find other homework locations.
“I wrote all my papers there last year,” junior Sam Musser said. “It was kind of nice because it was away from the hubbub and distractions of the library.”
Sophomore Liana Guidone agreed.
“It was a good change of pace and I really liked how bright it was with the windows,” she said. “It was also super convenient, especially on Sundays when I had ballroom dance in the Old Snack Bar. I could quickly transition between studying and dance.”
In general, students said the project is a necessary and positive development. Some expressed irritation at the lack of communication between the college administration and the rest of campus.
“I think it’s important for all students to know what is happening to our college and why the college is doing this,” McCarthy said. “The college never sent out an email like they did when they started construction on the chapel. I’m glad they’re making the improvements, but it would’ve been nice to have some notification.”