WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For 70 years, a smokestack that towered over the middle of Purdue University’s campus was the iconic figure that signaled “home” to Boilermakers.

The smokestack, built atop a heating and power plant, marked the center of campus from 1924 to 1992, when it was demolished after the university retired the power plant.

The building that once powered Purdue and served as a real-world learning lab for engineering students sat vacant and largely forgotten until 2014, when it was demolished.

The iconic building and smokestack is getting a second life, however, in the new Wilmeth Active Learning Center that sits on the power plant’s former site.

A massive black and white aerial photo of Purdue’s campus in 1934, with the smokestack pointing high above any other building, welcomes visitors to the center. To the left is a turbine recovered from the plant, on display next to an antique photo of workers, engineering students and a professor inspecting machinery.

Reclaimed items from the plant, such as old grates and brick, are incorporated throughout the 164,000-square-foot industrial-style facility.

“We wanted to really highlight that fact that yes, this building is new and it’s an active learning center, but it’s sitting on the site of a building that had a very important role within the university — both for the power aspect, but also for the instruction,” said Jim Mullins, Purdue’s dean of libraries.

The building’s ability to blend the past into a state-of-the-art space almost mirrors the center’s purpose: to marry two separate components of higher education to create a new type of learning atmosphere.

The $79 million Active Learning Center fuses classroom and library space, with a goal of promoting group work and, as the building’s name denotes, active learning in which students are engaged with the material, rather than simply listening to a professor preach.

“President (Mitch) Daniels has said, ‘I don’t want to walk into that building and look into a classroom and see a professor standing and lecturing to students lined up in rows,'” Mullins said.

The center has 27 classrooms that are designed for collaborative work and several open “library” spaces sprinkled throughout the building — marked by carpeting — for students to study individually or in a group. A reading room on the second floor is the only designated “quiet space.” The room will feature a reproduction of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” and offers an impressive view of the Bell Tower.

The building also houses the new Library of Engineering and Science, which merges formerly separate libraries for six disciplines — chemistry, earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, engineering, life sciences, pharmacy, nursing and health sciences, and physics.

Aside from academics, a full-service Au Bon Pain café and bakery is housed on the main floor. There’s also a 300-seat theatre that will be accessible for play productions and movie showings when it’s not being used as classroom space.

After 5:30 p.m., the entire building becomes an open library. Doors lock at midnight, but students and employees can enter 24/7 with their Purdue IDs. Security and staff will also be there at all times, Mullins said.

“Starting August 21, I can’t wait to see this building full of students,” he said.


Source: (Lafayette) Journal and Courier


Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com

This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.