Stedman: Behind The Scenes

As the sounds of drills and heavy machinery echo through the heart of Central Methodist University’s campus, excitement for next fall continues to spread. 

Especially for students and faculty belonging to CMU’s Science Division, each passing day means getting closer to stepping foot in their new, top-of-the-line science building, and stepping beyond a challenging 2017-18 academic year.

In February, Central announced its over 50-year-old Samuel L. Stedman Hall of Science would undergo major transformation. Demolition of the interior kicked off in May, and construction began in September, with completion of the $9.5 million project set for fall 2018.

The outer structure of Stedman will remain largely unchanged, but a new roof and many external improvements will enhance the building’s functionality and image. The inside was completely gutted for major upgrades, which include modernized laboratories, classrooms, and offices, and a new heating and cooling system. 

Such an expansive project required significant planning, collaboration, and shifting. After all, an entire building’s worth of classes and laboratories had to be relocated somewhere to accommodate students for the 2017-18 academic year. 

Many questions come to mind: How is it possible to teach science students with no science building? Where are they conducting laboratory experiments in chemistry, physics, biology, and other areas? How is CMU pulling this off?

The answers lie entirely among the many dedicated individuals who work at Central – separate entities joining together in the best possible way for the overall good of CMU and its students. 

After rearranging schedules and determining what classes would go where, “the labs were the iffy piece,” according to Dr. James “Tiger” Gordon, professor of chemistry and chair of the Division of Science at CMU. A lab coordinator was hired, and through the combined efforts of Plant Operations, faculty, and staff, decisions were made and quickly put into motion.

“From my perspective, we haven’t really missed a beat,” Gordon said. “Everyone did what they had to do to make sure everything was packed up and moved, and temporary classrooms and labs were ready when school started this fall.” 

When relocating labs, two challenges were faced due to chemistry and biology needs. “For chemistry, they needed ventilation, and for biology, we knew we needed a good size, working sink,” said Dr. Ashley Lough, professor of biology at CMU.

For chemistry, the answer was found in Holt Hall, one of five residence halls on campus that also houses the Admissions Department.

According to Gordon, Holt was the only other space with proper ventilation, located in its old cafeteria. So, Plant Operations installed hoods taken from Stedman, and when everything was said and done, the space worked perfectly for chemistry experiments. 

The sink needed for biology experiments was found in T. Berry Smith Hall, which coincidentally served as Central’s Science Hall from 1928 to the 1960s – when Stedman was constructed.

“It was the only other place on campus that had a sink we could use, and it was because of Criminal Justice students’ needs,” Lough said. “We upgraded it and now it works out well for a biology space.”

Gordon said other temporary locations around campus include physics classes in Central’s Morrison Observatory, chemistry and biochemistry classes in Holt Hall, and biology classes in T. Berry Smith Hall and the Little Theatre. Many math and computer science classes are being taught in the Thogmorton Center for Allied Health and the Clingenpeel Physical Education Building.

The animals and reptiles belonging to the division needed new homes, too. While the birds remain on campus, the majority of the creatures – including snakes and fish – are temporarily stationed at Fayette High School.

No one said it would be a simple task, but through it all, CMU faculty have remained extremely positive and cooperative, Gordon said. They realize this year is simply “short-term pain for long-term gain.”

“Right now, our offices are all together in a big cubicle area [in the Philips-Robb Recreation Center], and I think it’s actually been very healthy for us to interact this way,” Gordon said. “The spaces are adaptable, and students and faculty have been so cooperative and supportive.” 

Lough agreed with Gordon, saying the temporary office space has worked well for the time being. “You know, I thought it might be bad, but it’s actually been really nice,” she said. “I like having all the faculty in one space so we can interact; we’ve adapted, and the students have been really understanding.”

Central sophomore Natalie Van Horn, a marine biology major from Raymore, is one of the many students who will directly benefit from the “new” Stedman. 

“The temporary labs have certainly been nontraditional, but all of the necessary amenities are present, and I’m glad we didn't have to put a halt on our learning,” she said. “I’m looking forward to Stedman being complete, which will definitely benefit me as a marine biology student; we’ll be able to have our own little niche and work area in the labs with the specimens we bring back from research trips.”

At the end of the day, the faculty, staff, and everyone involved with making the Stedman renovation possible, realize the success of the project means more success for CMU students – and that is the most important piece of the puzzle.

“The former building has served CMU well for many years. This renovation will help us continue the legacy of Sam Stedman in providing the best science and math education environment for our students,” Gordon said. “It’s time for them to be able to say, ‘Wow, I’m proud this is my science building.’”

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