NORTH ADAMS -- When students return to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for the fall semester, they'll find some dramatic changes waiting for them at Hoosac Hall.
The six-story building is in the midst of the second year of a $6.9 million renovation, which when completed in August will add a new face and entryway to the building and add 14 dorm rooms to its first floor, which was previously the main entrance to the building and its lobby.
In addition, the basement level of the building, which once housed dining services and has since served as the Hoosac Harbor student lounge for the last 12 years, will not only serve as the building's new lobby and entryway, but will host multiple spaces, including offices for the dorm's director and resident advisers, a multi-purpose activity room, a billiard room, a kitchenette and a lounge, along with laundry, vending machine and recycling facilities.
According to Dianne Manning, director of residential services and programs, an increase in residential students over the last few years prompted the renovations, with the college choosing to add more rooms instead of increasing room occupancy rates.
"We're adding 12 double occupancy rooms and two single rooms," she said Friday during a tour of the construction. "We've also taken the opportunity to convert the student lounges on each of the five other floors, adding two single rooms to each of the floors. It's something Hoosac Hall has never
The dorm, which has a 95 percent freshman occupancy rate and a 5 percent transfer and returning student occupancy rate, lends itself to creating an atmosphere for communication and bonding, Manning said.
She said the first floor will have slightly fewer rooms than the five above it -- hosting 26 students as opposed to 36, because the resident director's apartment is also located on the floor.
"In the future, it may become a specialty floor -- a ‘quiet' floor or a transfer floor," she said.
Alumna Michelle Hanson, who graduated from the college in 2008 and now works as a resident director at Roger Williams University, said she believes the changes will go over well with the student body.
"It's simply amazing," she said during the tour. "I lived here for three years, two of which I was a resident adviser. It certainly has transformed the building. It's definitely going to transform the way students communicate and interact with each other in this building. I also think the addition of single-occupancy rooms is a phenomenal idea."
However, Manning believes the most dramatic change to the dorm is taking place on its basement level and with its entryway.
"When you entered Hoosac Hall, there were two options: You could take the cement stairs up to the lobby or the stairs down to Hoosac Harbor," she said. "We're lowering the entrance and recreating it. The new entrance was also purposely designed to match up with a new entrance to the marketplace [in the neighboring Amsler Campus Center]."
One thing that made the renovation to the entryway possible was the fact that the building's elevators already went to the basement level, she said.
"We're going to have a nice glass vestibule, similar to the one at the Berkshire Towers, to enter through," Manning said. "There's going to be an L-shaped security desk right when you entered. The resident director's office will be next to the elevators."
A staircase and landing, which led to the original first floor lobby, has been kept in tact but has been converted into a meeting room that will only be accessible from the new lower level.
"When we gutted this floor, we were finally able to realize how much space there was," she said. "Even though dining services moved out of here about 12 years ago, there was still a kitchen that was used for storage. We gained a lot of room by removing it."
In its place are a new meeting room and lounge area, complete with a flat screen television, and a kitchenette for students to cook in.
"We also thought a lot about storage space," she said. "With this building, we had the opportunity to think about what we really like about the renovations to Berkshire Towers and what we would change about it if we had the opportunity to do it over again. We brought those take-aways to this building. One of the things we really thought about here was how much storage we'd need and how wide the doors would need to be."
The renovations are being financed by a bond secured by the state College Building Authority, which owns the college's dormitories. The bond will be repaid through student room fees.