Students discover learning experience in old city hall

Published 5:54 am Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Contributing Editor

Washington’s old City Hall could be converted into a welcome/tourism center and a distance-learning/computer center under proposals prepared by East Carolina University students.
Those proposals were presented Tuesday at Washington’s Civic Center. The students’ project was to develop usable plans to give Washington’s old City Hall a virtual makeover.
Hunt McKinnon, an assistant professor in ECU’s Department of Interior Design and Merchandising, met earlier this year with city officials and members of the Washington Harbor District Alliance and Washington Area Historic Foundation to develop a blueprint for the project. McKinnon and several of his students visited old City Hall late last month, with students taking measurements and closely examining the structure.
The three presentations made Tuesday each called for using the ground floor of old City Hall as a welcome/tourism center that could house the offices of a nonprofit organization like the Washington Harbor District Alliance. The presentations had the second floor being used as a distance-learning/computer center, where people could take online courses and take online tests for those courses in a secure environment. Monitors would make sure the student taking the online course is the same person who is taking the online test for that course.
The upper floor would also provide areas where people could use available wireless services to study and participate in educational institutions’ off-site learning programs.
On Monday, other ECU students presented their plans for old City Hall, which called for the first floor to house a green grocer and the upper floor serving as a residential area.
Dee Congleton, a member of the Washington Area Historic Foundation, attended Tuesday’s session. She was impressed with what she saw and heard.
“I’m very encouraged by the presentations today, and I particularly love the groups that were for reusing the floors, the stained-glass windows, the benches,” she said. “This is certainly a very positive effort by these young people on their presentations.”
The students said the project, especially interacting with community members, is providing them a real-world look at the challenges of finding adaptive reuses for old, historic structures.
“It’s definitely been an experience working with a historical building. This is the first time we’ve ever done anything with any kind of historical preservation and trying to keep the original facade and original finishings that are in the building,” said ECU student Anna Turner. “Also, presenting in front of this many people, this is the first time we’ve actually done a presentation where people have come in from the community. It’s good to hear people’s feedback and to hear what would happen if this building actually were renovated and used for this purpose. It’s really interesting to hear people express their concerns and express what their thoughts are on how the building would be reused.”
After evaluation of the feedback, the students will modify their plans to reflect that feedback, McKinnon said. Once their plans are modified, the students’ work will be turned over to the city, which owns old City Hall.
The city plans to use that work to help market the building, which it plans to sell.