After more than five years of planning, fundraising and construction, Thurston Hall opened its doors to students and faculty last month.
The new building will serve as the new home for Utica College’s growing construction management (CM) program — previously housed in the basement of Hubbard Hall.
While Thurston Hall stands tall in UC’s academic quad, funding the new building, which carried price tags of $3.5 million for construction and $300,000 for new equipment and software, was anything but a straightforward endeavor.
According to Vice President for Advancement George Nehme, who has spearheaded fundraising efforts for Thurston Hall, the total funds raised stand at $3.2 million. In September, Nehme confirmed to The Tangerine that the entire project would not incur “a penny of debt to the college.”
With the primary contribution of $1 million coming from the building’s namesake, alumnus Gary Thurston, UC has attempted to raise remaining funds from alumni donations, grants and various state and federal economic programs. Most notably, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) held a press conference on campus last year to announce his support for both the new building and UC’s federal funding application through the Economic Development Administration (EDA).
Two weeks later, UC’s application would be denied by the EDA.
But while fundraising carries on, CM faculty have begun their first semester working out of the new building — a welcomed change as the program was “bursting at the seams” in the basement of Hubbard, explained Dimitar Todorov, a professor of construction management.
Since the construction management program began 11 years ago, the major has experienced steady growth, Todorov explained. Entering the fall semester, the program had 108 students enrolled compared to just eight in 2008.
“We needed a much larger place and new technology because the program expanded dramatically,” Todorov said. “Last year in Hubbard, we essentially had one classroom with 25 workstations, one teaching room and a small room with 11 stations that was originally a storage closet.”
A construction professional himself, Todorov said he appreciates the layout and design of Thurston Hall, which features large glass windows around the building to allow the flow of natural light into classrooms. This access to natural light, he said, only enhances the learning process for students.
The new location will also give the CM program the opportunity to hold more hands-on demonstrations in the building’s new materials lab. Before Thurston Hall, explained Professor of Construction Management Audrey Cross, students would have to go off campus to see building demonstrations and meet with construction professionals.
“We didn’t have any room down there [in the basement of Hubbard],” Cross said. “So we couldn’t have had a construction company come here and do a demonstration. Now that we have this space, they can come to us.”
Cross, an alumna of UC’s construction management program, said that the new building gives “a huge admissions boost” for prospective students and “sets a whole new image” for the program.
“Prospective students would come in and you’d say, ‘Here’s the basement of Hubbard,’ but they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re in a basement,’” she said. “Now, you go, ‘Here’s our brand new building,’ and their eyes light up.”
Junior CM major Michael Delia, who is also a student ambassador, said that the new building is a definite source of pride for current students and a great selling point for prospective students.
“Rather than showing off a basement, you’re showing off a multimillion-dollar basement that has all the latest equipment,” Delia said. “I have a year and a half left [before graduating], so I’m not going to be here much longer, but this is a great thing for future students down the road.”
Senior Mike Palmieri said he is in disbelief that Thurston Hall has finally opened its doors. While Palmieri will only be able to enjoy the new building and its amenities this semester before graduating in May, he is excited for the future construction management majors who will get to experience four full years in the new facility.
“For three years straight, I walked into the basement of Hubbard and now I walk into here (Thurston Hall); I’m just so grateful more than anything,” Palmieri said. “We have great alumni who donated a lot of money to the program and who care about the program. This is just a testament to that.”
Beyond classwork, the three upperclassmen have also begun to utilize the updated space and facilities to enhance the work and activities of their major-related club, Student Contractors Association (SCA). Pending approval from UC, SCA is designing a veterans memorial that will be built in front of Strebel Hall by CM students.
“It was very hard, as a new club, to get ourselves organized [working out of Hubbard],” Delia said. “Now we have our own area where we can do that. It’s a lot easier for us to take time out from academic stuff and come down here to plan for our club.”
While the construction management program is content in Thurston Hall, the question of what to do with Hubbard Hall’s vacant basements remains.
According to Vice President for Institutional Planning Kim Lambert, college officials are considering creating two dedicated computer labs in the near future for use by either the computer science or cyber security programs.