Login | December 11, 2017

Debt-free facelift of Akron Law nears completion

Preparations are underway for the official grand opening of the C. Blake McDowell Law Center at The University of Akron School of Law. While the ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 8 Akron Law’s new Dean, Christopher J. (C.J.) Peters, said the construction will be completed by the end of July. (Photo courtesy of The University of Akron School of Law)

SHERRY KARABIN
Legal News Reporter

Published: July 28, 2017

Preparations are underway for the official grand opening of the C. Blake McDowell Law Center at The University of Akron School of Law.

While the ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 8 Akron Law’s new Dean, Christopher J. (C.J.) Peters, said the construction will be completed by the end of July, essentially on schedule.

“The project was a combination of renovated and new space,” said Peters, who took the reins on June 15. “Most of the renovated space is already in use, and we expect to be using the new addition by the beginning of August.”

The $21 million project got underway in phases starting in December 2015 with a complete renovation of the first floor facilities, followed by the demolition of the old West Hall and the construction of a smaller wing in its place.

The second and third floors of the building were also renovated and a host of amenities were added.

Funding for the work came from private donations, including a key $2 million gift from the estate of Mrs. Beatrice Knapp McDowell and a $1.25 million gift from the Brennan Family Foundation, together with state support and a long-term savings plan, enabling educators to provide a debt-free facelift.

“The idea of a building renovation project was conceived long before I came to Akron Law in 2014,” said former dean Matthew J. Wilson, now president of The University of Akron. “When I came on the scene, it provided an opportunity for us to revamp our strategy, focus our efforts on a financially realistic project and build something that will impact legal education in the area for decades to come. I personally made a commitment to the university and the law school to complete the project debt-free by July 2017.

“Fortunately, we were able to accomplish this while working to minimize the inconvenience to our staff, faculty and students,” said Wilson. “As each portion of the building was finished, we have been able to open the spaces for us, including several of the major classrooms last August.”

Taking the place of West Hall is the new 120-seat David and Ann Amer Brennan ceremonial courtroom/classroom, complete with judges’ chambers, jury room, live streaming capabilities and fully integrated technology.

“The courtroom is surrounded by windows,” said Peters. “It will house actual court sessions, moot court trial practice sessions and competitions. It can also serve as a classroom or auditorium.”

Situated above the courtroom are two new 82-seat circular state-of-the art classrooms equipped with video conferencing and distance learning capabilities.

“We will be able to live stream events or lectures that take place in the Brennan Courtroom to these classrooms and to other parts of the building,” said Peters.

Students and faculty will also be able to enjoy the Beatrice K. McDowell Commons, a large two-story atrium that will serve as a gathering, study and event space. Glass breakout rooms with teleconferencing ability line one side and a café is located on the other, with lounge seating and a gas fireplace.

The second floor of the Commons area includes new study spaces, new flexible classrooms and a renovated space dedicated to the Center for Intellectual Property Law and Technology, Center for Constitutional Law and the Joseph G. Miller and William C. Becker Center for Professional Responsibility.

The library also underwent reconstruction, reducing its square footage to make room for more collaborative spaces for students as well as a new space for the clinics, a larger career services suite and an academic support suite. It will also contain a small moot courtroom named in memory of Lawrence A. Sutter III, an Akron Law alumnus who coached the school’s successful trial advocacy teams for many years. Sutter passed away in March after a long battle with cancer.

Prior to the renovation the faculty offices were scattered throughout the building. However, now they are located in suites on the second and third floors with shared copy/work rooms and collaboration areas that are easily accessible to students.

“I think the changes are terrific,” said Peters. “I think they emphasize a number of themes about Akron Law that I noticed right from the beginning.

“Akron Law has very strong ties to the community and this space solidifies the connection with the legal community and the community at large,” he said. “It is very open and bright with plenty of windows.

“I believe the state-of-the-art technology in the new space supports the kind of preparation for law practice that students expect from Akron Law.”

Peters said students who arrive for orientation next month will get their first look at the new facilities, which will be used by students when the semester begins on August 28.

“We’re very excited to put this new innovative space to use to service current and future students who enter the halls of this new building,” said Wilson.


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