Winona State University Dean of Education Daniel Kirk highlights some of the multi-use functions of a room in Helble Hall, one of the three new buildings at the university’s new Education Village.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
Adaptability, community, education –– three words, one facility.
On Monday, representatives from Winona State University (WSU) showed off the new Education Village for the first time, highlighting the amenities and showcasing the university’s newest community resource.
The unveiling is a long time coming for WSU. The plan to create a new center for education began seven years ago after the university received a grant to revamp how teachers are prepared for modern classrooms. At first, the process was focused on curriculum, adding more technology and practical experience into the classroom, but the concept quickly expanded to include construction. The $33.2-million project is one of the largest expansions of WSU in its history, and after years of questions and construction, the village will be open for business next month.
The 128,000-square-foot facility will be home to 1,262 undergraduate students and 270 graduate students this fall, with dozens of programs and multiple departments. When it opens it will include everything from STEM and robotics labs and makerspaces, to observation areas and an education museum.
In a way, explained WSU President Scott Olson, Education Village has allowed WSU to come full circle.
Prior to being a university, WSU was the Winona Normal School, and was the first school for educating teachers west of the Mississippi River. Education Village, in turn, is a way for WSU to honor its past and bring the instruction of the next generation of teachers and educators into the new age of technological learning.
“This project was to reestablish education as the reason WSU is here in the first place,” Olson said.
Daniel Kirk, new dean of education at WSU, led the tour and explained how the construction of the village itself shows the wide gamut of the university’s offerings for students and faculty.
“There are three very different feelings between these buildings,” Kirk said.
Education Village is made up of three main buildings –– Helble Hall, Wabasha Recreation Center, and the former Cathedral School. Each of the buildings centers on one aspect, Kirk explained, with Helble acting as the primary education space for the facility. He described it as a renovation project, with the space manipulated to be as state-of-the-art as possible. The second building, Wabasha, was coined “the fun building” by Kirk. It includes the newly refurbished and expanded climbing facility, as well as other outdoor amenities and faculty offices.
The Cathedral School, on the other hand, was a restoration project –– much of the construction and architecture was based on keeping and reusing much of the old façade and decorative pieces, to keep the history of the building intact.
The tour began in Helble Hall, which is the most architecturally varied of the three buildings. The number-one focus of the main facility, Kirk said, was creating a place that adapts to students’ learning and not the other way around. Some things about education spaces are immovable, he explained, but others can be catered directly for education.
“We still have people sitting in boxes for learning. The things that we can manipulate are light, color and sound,” Kirk stated.
Each of those three aspects can be seen in spades in each of the buildings’ many rooms. Blue, green, pink and yellow glass separates rooms from one another. Brightly colored furniture of all shapes and sizes litters the facilities, creating small spaces for students to work alone or together.
“It’s eclectic. What we have learned in the last 160 years of education is that people all learn differently,” Olson said. “Some people learn best in classrooms, but others needs breakout space, some need quiet space and some need personal space –– the space meets the needs of the learner.”
Natalie Benson, a junior at WSU studying elementary education with an early childhood emphasis, came to the university while Education Village was still just a rumor. Now, entering her third year, she explained that she is excited to get to work in the space and use everything it has to offer.
“I’m looking forward to the new, updated technology, and how it will help prepare us for our future classrooms,” Benson said. “I expect to see more teamwork for groups, and the technology will let us know how everything works in the future.”
Technology is an important part of the Education Village, Kirk explained, particularly in Helble Hall.
“This building is tech rich. Very rich,” Kirk said.
Several rooms contain multiple monitors, which are connected to allow students to not just share their work with their groups, but also with the full class through collaboration and for presentations. Small microphones hang above lab tables, allowing students to talk with one another and professors without the need to move to specific places for presentations.
“This has been based around students,” Kirk said. Not just the WSU students that will be making their way through the program this fall, he added, but also the community students that will find a home in the space.
Aside from the classrooms for education students, the Education Village will also house the WSU Children’s Center with its 177 enrolled students. The classrooms, which will be available only to licensed staff, parents and approved personnel, will provide students the ability to work closely with younger students across the region in a facility specifically made for early education learning.
There are also multiple partnerships being developed across the region with schools and school districts, like Winona Area Public Schools, to create programming for students from kindergarten through high school.
If innovation and adaptability was the focus for Helble Hall, Wabasha is focused on the community. The building houses the university’s climbing facility –– which is three times the size of the average climbing facility –– as well as a location for community members to stop in and pick up equipment for enjoying the outdoors.
“We are open to everyone,” said Eric Barnard, director of the Outdoor Education and Recreation Center. “If you want to go camping but don’t have the equipment, we can get that for you.”
The Education Village also contains a large green space, which will eventually be home to an additional one-room schoolhouse, which is another extension of the facility as a community resource, Kirk explained.
However, of all the buildings, the Cathedral School has the longest history with the Winona community and, as such, was approached in a different way. Different rooms in the building showcase different layouts of classrooms, showing the evolution of learning over the years –– many of the school’s historical rooms and masonry remain intact. Additionally, while it is still under construction, there’s an Education Museum on the bottom level detailing the history of education not just in Winona, but across the state and country.
“If you come back in a year or so, you will see interesting learning happening with the artifacts we have here,” Kirk said.
The crown jewel of the building was shown at the end of the tour –– the former boys’ and girls’ entrances have been preserved, but with a unique twist. Instead of retaining the outdated segregated entrances, the masonry has been reused for the entrances to the men’s and women’s restrooms.
The facility will be open for the school year, which kicks off in just a few short weeks, and a grand opening will be held on September 5, with more details coming later. The opening will mark the end of a long process for the university, Kirk said, but the beginning of a new one.
“The excitement in the community –– not only about these buildings, but what we can accomplish in these buildings –– is palpable,” Kirk said.
“When I was a kid, if you had asked my parents or grandparents what the best part of Minnesota is, they would say three things,” Olson said. Two of those, he explained, are integral to Winona –– the outdoors and the arts. “The number-one thing they would say is we have strong education. We believe in the power of education.”