A slow but steady revitalization is taking place on the 119-year-old Texas College campus. Buildings have been torn down. Others have been renovated. New technology is in some classrooms. And, if all goes according to plan, construction could be in the future.
“If you or your family were to come to an institution there are just certain things that you would expect for a 21st century type of experience,” he said. “That’s what we’re attempting to do. It’s a daily review.”
Walking around the 22-plus acre campus on the city’s north side, to the unfamiliar eye changes may be unclear. However, as Fennell details the upgrades, there are many.
Inside the McKinney Hall Student Center, built in 1929, pool tables, study rooms and a meeting room replaced offices to provide places for students to study, relax and work together in organizations. These changes were made in 2009.
The Gus F. Taylor Gymnasium received an interior renovation with new windows, air conditioning, lighting and flooring.
In the library annex, tables and chairs provide another place for students to socialize and study. The dean of students has an office nearby.
A computer lab also provides more than 20 workstations for students. Previously, this annex space was an unused area of the campus, Fennell said.
“It was definitely something that we’re all a fan of and to see it built,” Student Government Association President Jake Martin, 21, of Tyler, said of the enhancements. “It was an upgrade from what we had and it just improved the campus in general.”
Ashley Wooten, 21, of Dallas, who was Miss Texas College in 2012, said the changes have been positive for the student body providing a space to relax and socialize.
“It has been pretty impactful,” she said.
The college has replaced windows, air conditioning units in several buildings as well as pipes for the water system on campus.
The college also has upgraded classroom technology. They are now seeking donations to upgrade the library
Although improving campus facilities was not necessarily an outright priority for Fennell when he arrived, it became a necessary step to accomplishing a clear priority.
“Our first thrust was we called it changing the culture of learning,” he said. “And for us, changing the culture of learning meant creating an environment that was conducive for students to learn.”
One of the largest projects for the college happened about a half mile away from the main campus.
A $250,000 federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development partially funded the renovation that took what essentially was an abandoned building and made it into a multi-purpose facility to serve the college and community.
Called the Discovery Learning Center, the facility is located near the site where Emmett Scott High School used to stand at the intersection of North Englewood Avenue and West Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The plan is for part of the center to be used for teacher education, with another part used for community members and young people to engage in learning.
“What we’re proposing is to excite high school students, middle school students about learning,” Fennell said, “and … (give) them some insightfulness as it pertains to college and their readying themselves for their futures.”
“We’re excited,” Fennell said. “We think it’s an impressive looking building and (we’re) excited for the opportunities to serve.”
The college expects to serve as many as 2,000 middle and high school students to adults through the facility, which should open later this year.
“The thing that this administration realizes is that education is for this entire community,” Fennell said.
Fennell said although it feels good to have accomplished the upgrades with the help of the Lord, there is more work to be done.
“We need space,” he said. “We need buildings.”
And though some people might reflect on the changes in the past few years, Fennell said he doesn’t have the desire or the time unless it is for the purpose of evaluating a situation.
“I think sometimes if you look back, you can become so satisfied that you fail to create the vision for where you’re headed …” he said. “I think our responsibility is to keep looking forward, keep dreaming and expanding, creating, keep challenging yourself.”