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Oxford College building restoration finished

Oxford College's Language Hall recently reopened after undergoing renovations.

Oxford College's Language Hall recently reopened after undergoing renovations.

OXFORD --Following extensive restoration, Oxford College's Language Hall has reopened for the semester.

Built in 1874, the building was at times divided during the 20th century into small classrooms and smaller offices. Following six months of work, Language Hall now has been restored to its original floor plan, with two spacious classrooms on each of two floors. An addition provides new faculty offices and ancillary space.

"After months of evaluating the historic structure, strengthening it with modern materials, and building modern classrooms that make the most of the gracious original building while providing a 21st-century teaching environment, Language Hall is now one of the most beautiful and well-equipped buildings on Oxford's campus," said Stephen Bowen, dean of Oxford College. "Myra Frady, dean for resource planning and CFO, and her team have taken great care to honor the history and heritage of Language Hall while also providing the infrastructure and interior design that make it a 21st-century learning environment with a fresh, modern aesthetic."

Participants in the project included architectural firm Lord Aeck and Sargent, as well as Juneau Construction, both of Atlanta.

Language Hall's exterior finishes were selected following research into the building's original design.

Chimney-like brick structures were added to the roof in homage to the building's original, working chimneys. An addition to the building's south side provided six new faculty offices.

The building was reconfigured into four large classrooms, two on each floor. Drop ceilings that were installed years ago were removed, and the original ceiling height of more than 12 feet was restored, allowing for the original large window openings to be fully used.

Layers of flooring were removed to reveal the building's original heart-pine floors. While classroom floors are covered with low-pile carpet to minimize noise, the restored original floors have been left exposed in public areas such as halls and landings.

An elevator for the two-story building was installed, and a ramp to the east entrance makes it wheelchair-accessible, bringing it in line with ADA accessibility standards.

Modern technology also was added to the building.

In the first-floor entry, a flat-screen monitor provides visitors with building and campus directories, as well as a rotating calendar of campus events.

The four classrooms were enhanced with interactive whiteboards or podiums powered by SMART Technologies, enabling instructors to do free-form writing and interaction with content.

One of the Language Hall classrooms is also enhanced with a lecture-capture device that allows instructors to easily record their classroom teaching in both audio and video using a touch-panel control system.

Pieces of art and artifacts also are spread throughout the renovated building.

In addition to a portrait bust of the philosopher Plato on display near the entrance, throughout the building hang 18 photographs by internationally recognized photographer Dawoud Bey. In 2010, Bey was commissioned by Emory University's Transforming Community Project to develop a series of double portraits that explore Oxford's and Emory's historic and current experiences with race, gender, sexuality and other forms of human difference.

During the six months of restoration, work crews unearthed several artifacts from the building's past. Removal of the original plaster ceiling and lath on the first floor revealed beams that had clearly been re-purposed from another building. The consensus is that they were from Old Main, Emory College's first administrative building, which was demolished in 1872.

Inspecting the building just prior to the project's start, architects found in the attic part of a decorative cover that fit the gable vent on the building's north side. It is clearly handmade, and early photographs confirmed that it or a cover like it had been used in the building. Using that photograph as a guide, the cover was restored, and it is now back in its original place.

When layers of drywall were removed from classroom walls, several original blackboards were revealed. They were of plaster tinted black, not slate, and applied with the rest of the wall plaster. One is now on display on the second floor.

Other found items include patent-medicine bottles, handmade nails and iron joists. A display on Language Hall's second floor highlights some of these objects.

In keeping with Emory and Oxford's commitment to sustainable practices, Language Hall is designed with many resource-saving features, including low-flow plumbing fixtures, a hydration station that encourages the use of personal water bottles in lieu of bottled water, a highly efficient HVAC system and motion-activated lighting.

Also at Oxford College, the Oxford Library and Academic Commons is still under construction and on track for completion by early May. The new facility incorporates the basic structure of the old library building, built in 1970, and a 10,000-square-foot addition.

Construction will begin in early summer on a new 208-bed residence hall, which will be built on the north side of Hamill Street, across from East Village residence hall.

Schematic design is under way on a new science building, with start of construction targeted for summer 2014. The site is on the northwest corner of the quad, adjacent to Phi Gamma Hall.