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November 4, 2002

Cox computer lab opens new doors

By Eric Rangus

The newly renovated Cox Hall Computer Center is, quite simply, the coolest loft apartment in the neighborhood.

With more high-tech gadgetry than a James Bond movie and a setting that is inviting and trendy, the center, when it reopens today, will almost certainly become the place to be when students or faculty need a good computer at their fingertips.

“It remains to be seen how this space is going to be used, but we are going to have a good time finding out,” said Marisa Benson, project manager for the renovation and business analyst for the Information Technology Division (ITD).

“There hasn’t been a place on campus that has supported collaborative learning,” said Alan Cattier, academic technologies director for ITD. “We needed to come up with a space where several people could work on a project together.”

And that space, which was created through the combined efforts of ITD, along with Facilities Management and architect Collins, Cooper and Carusi, is quite spectacular.

The center contains more than 70 computers—both PCs and Macs—and many workstations have dual monitor displays so group members can look at different things at once. The computers are state-of-the-art and provide digital video editing, burners for CDs and DVDs, scanning, and a host of other amenities. There is wireless Internet access, several plasma-screen smart boards are scattered throughout the center, and it’s OK to write on the furniture: Several of movable barriers that separate workstations (called “sails” because of their triangular shape) double as white boards.

“We wanted to give Cox an academic heart,” Cattier said. Academics will be the center’s focus, but Cox’s heart is wrapped up in a very attractive package.

The carpeting is violet, and hardwood floors abound. With just a couple, unobtrusive interior walls and exposed ductwork in the ceiling, the center resembles a giant loft. Costs were not cut on the furniture, which is comfortable, colorful, versatile and über-stylish.

Practically every table and chair in the place has wheels so users can move them around to suit their needs. Even entire workstations can be rolled across the room.

The 10,000-square-foot computer center has a great deal of space for classes and meetings, as well. Two rooms in the back are set aside, and in the main computer area is the “Fishbowl,” a glassed-in conference room that seats about six-to-eight people.

Also in the back is the “Gallery.” Five circular tables are situated here with an adjacent coffee bar. A projection screen is on the far wall for student video projects. Cattier said that there are ideas to possibly even start movie nights if there is enough interest. The other walls, which are bare now, won’t be that way for very long. Soon they will display works from students in studio arts, which until now has not had a place on campus to show off its projects.

“Warm industrial,” is how Cattier half-jokingly describes the interior decoration of the place, which is light years ahead of its previously look.

The old Cox Hall computer lab, which also housed the Computer Support Center, was a sterile space with rows and rows of cubicles. “We were Dilbert,” Cattier said of the second-floor lab. When it opened in 1991, the lab was state-of-the-art. By spring 2002, though, it was hopelessly obsolete.

In order to help design the new center, ITD surveyed faculty and students. Their comments were incorporated into the center’s furnishings. Faculty wanted a room to teach where there were moveable tables and chairs. They got it. Students wanted a room with easy chairs and no tables so they could move around easier. They got it. The easy chairs—which are more comfortable than any classroom chair has a right to be—have adjustable desktops attached to the arms and wheels for mobility.

Both rooms, along with the Fishbowl, will be available to the community on a reserve basis. Eventually, classes will be taught in the two auxiliary rooms, but right now they are open.

The renovation was begun in June and, except for a bit of equipment that needs to be unpacked, the lab is in pristine condition and ready for action. All told, the work was a relative bargain at just under $1 million for renovation and furniture, plus $500,000 for all new computer technology.

According to Don Harris, vice provost for information technology, a variety of sources were used to fund the technology, including ITD operational funds, student technology funds and graduate student technology fees. No additional funds were sought from the University. The cash was well spent, Harris said, because the project will directly benefit the students and academic programs of the University.

“We want this to be our showcase lab,” Harris said. “We want to keep all of our new, exciting technology in this space. And every year we want to bring in new equipment, allowing older technology to have a second life in another lab."

As Cattier stated, academics will take priority, but students are encouraged to use Cox as their lab space to do personal work such as checking e-mail at the center’s computers or building their personal web pages.

“I love working with the students,” said Kim Braxton, the lab’s manager. “They’re learning, they’re flexible and they are very excited about this.”

Braxton meets regularly with staff in the Emory College Language Center (ECLC) and the Emory Center for Interactive Teaching (ECIT), both of which were at the forefront of using Emory’s smart classroom technology. Braxton said the ties between the center, ECLC and ECIT will be close, and the center is a logical extension of programs each organization started.

Early on, the lab will be open from 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Eventually, the lab will be open until 10 p.m. on weekdays, and weekend hours will be added.