Houghton Hall undergoes major renovation project

(Artist rendition of Houghton Hall after renovation. Courtesy of Holly Lawson.)


Special to The Leader


Since 2015, a series of changes began to take place at Houghton Hall as the physics and geosciences departments were temporarily moved to Jewett Hall. The building was briefly used for fine arts students while the Rockefeller Arts Center was nearing the completion of its addition and renovations until Dec. 2016.

Houghton Hall has been closed since the spring of 2017 and is not expected to reopen within the next few years. When the new Science Center was being constructed, plans were made to renovate Houghton Hall since the two buildings would be connected. When the State University Construction Fund became financially low, the renovational project halted, causing the expected time of completion to be delayed.

Currently, the plan to renovate Houghton Hall is back in progress. This will feature a massive overhaul with new offices, high-tech laboratories, conference rooms and student lounges, along with a fresh redesign of the building’s exterior.

“[There are] several reasons we want to renovate,” said Dr. Holly Lawson, who serves as the project shepherd for the Fredonia Science Center and oversees Houghton Hall’s renovations. “One is that Houghton is connected to a gorgeous building, but the building itself is pretty rundown.”

One of the unique aspects about Houghton Hall is that the edifice was designed by I.M. Pei — an internationally recognized architect who also designed McEwen Hall, Reed Library, Rockefeller Arts Center, Williams Center and the former academic spine bridge.

Houghton Hall is often unrecognized for being one of I.M. Pei’s works since the building’s exterior is brick, in contrast to his other designs on campus which are concrete.

One of the most notable changes to the building’s layout will be its faculty offices. The original design had small, windowless offices, each with a large backroom to be used as a laboratory. The space was to allow professors to store equipment and conduct experiments.

“It’s a weird space. You can’t make it into something else like a classroom,” said Justin Conroy, the chair of the physics department. “So [the architects] decided its best to remove those walls. The different departments met with them a number of times to go through our needs.”

The renovated layout will feature offices without private labs, clustered in newly constructed hallways that will loop around to create a “neighborhood” for each department. The area will also feature conference rooms and student lounges. The various department chair and secretary offices will be located in one area. This will help students and faculty to interact across disciplines.

The basement of Houghton Hall will feature renovated labs which will be best suitable for conducting physics experiments that can be extremely sensitive to subtle vibrations. These spaces will be windowless. This will be ideal when working with lasers and optics.

Upon completion, the renovated building will once again be home to the physics and geosciences departments and the new home for the department of computer and information sciences. A large portion of the building’s second floor will be left vacant in order to provide available space for the future.

SUNY Fredonia says it is possible for Houghton Hall to reopen by the summer of 2020, should the project not experience any more delays. The renovation plans to do a substantial makeover to the building’s exterior, which will consist of a similar design to the new Science Center. The goal is to create an interconnecting Science Complex.

“I won’t be around to see the new Houghton Hall [as a student before graduation],” said senior physics and mathematics double major, Kyle Mascara. “It definitely needs the upgrade because it’s one of the oldest interior buildings on campus. I’m kind of excited to see it [when completed],” he added.

Since the completion of the new Science Center, which is primarily used for chemistry and biology, their respective departments have seen a significant increase in students enrolled in those disciplines. It is expected that the departments of physics, geosciences and computer and information sciences will increase once the renovations of Houghton Hall are completed. This will create a dynamic learning environment for students to engage in Fredonia’s expanding science programs.

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