By Julia Morse
Two of the University of Chicago’s most beloved and historic reading rooms will be renovated this year in Harper Memorial Library and Stuart Hall, creating a vibrant student learning center in the Gothic heart of campus.
“Our goal is to restore this beautiful space to its deserved splendor,” said John Boyer, Dean of the College. “There will be new lighting, new furniture, new carpet, better technology—everything needed to make the space as useable, contemporary and welcoming as possible, while ensuring the history remains intact.”
Developed through collaboration between the College, the Library and NSIT, the project will renovate the Stuart Hall Reading Room, which will be designed for group study, and Harper, which will be designed for individual study. A café and student art gallery, where Harper’s circulation desk is currently located, will adjoin the renovated rooms.
“These two reading rooms are architectural and historical gems in this community,” Boyer said. Stuart Hall was built in 1904, Harper in 1912. Both reading rooms will now be open to students 24 hours a day.
The University Board of Trustees approved proceeding with design at its Thursday, June 5 meeting. Tentative completion of the Harper Reading Room is scheduled for Fall 2009, with the remaining project components to follow during the 2009–2010 academic year.
College fourth-year and President of Student Government Scott Duncombe said that the benefits of the new learning center to students will be countless.
“These reading rooms aren’t greatly used by students as they are now, so these enhancements will be really beneficial,” Duncombe said. “The beauty of the plans is that they will keep the spirit of Harper and Stuart intact, while making them more usable for students.”
Duncombe added that the new learning center’s location is particularly noteworthy.
“Currently, we don’t have this kind of place on the south side of campus, so this will add a lot. I love the idea of a new center of student life that is student-friendly, modern, but relevant to the history of this place,” Duncombe said.
“As we continue to enhance the College experience, this will create another vibrant hub supporting our students’ individual and group research needs, with a focus on the entire College experience,” said William Michel, Assistant Vice-President for Student Life in the University and Associate Dean of the College.
Michel added that with the new University residence hall being built south of the Midway, there would be greater demand for a learning center in Harper and Stuart’s reading rooms.
“We’re aiming to create a campus learning center for the entire University community, including both students living north of the Midway and those living in the new College dorm south of the Midway,” Michel said.
The new residence hall will house more than 800 students and is set to open in Fall 2009.