A renovation project at the University of Central Arkansas will transform McCastlain Hall and restore the hall into a place where students will want to gather.
The university was awarded a Management-Stewardship grant of $800,000 by the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council in May. The award came after McCastlain Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2013.
Diane Newton, vice president of Finance and Administration, said UCA would match about $400,000 in funds for renovations.
Dr. Gayle Seymour, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, and K.C. Poole, interior design internship instructor, wrote the grant that secured the state funding.
“It is such an important building to our campus and really to our community,” Seymour said.
Seymour said McCastlain Hall was built in 1939 with economic stimulus money during the Great Depression. The building was UCA’s first stand-alone cafeteria. The hall provided meals for 1,800 Women’s Army Corps members in 1943-1944, and even former President Jimmy Carter dined in the hall before giving a speech on campus in 1986.
Seymour said the hall has been in use for the past 75 years, but the building began to look rundown.
Immediate improvements include renovations to East Commons, food service, green room for meetings, the coatroom and a service elevator. The food service room will be renovated to help workers coordinate meals for up to 400 people who use East Commons and the Fireplace Room for gatherings.
Another major renovation among the initial projects is a classy, retro upgrade to East Commons. The room will get 1930s-styled coffered ceilings that will improve acoustics and hide audio and video wiring and equipment. The room will feature new lighting while preserving its historic look, and the pine paneling will be restored to the architect’s original design.
UCA plans to restore the Fireplace Room’s many architectural features, including twin fireplaces with flanking millwork, double doors, original plaster ceiling and pine paneling.
Renderings show new exterior doors that will replicate the original door and transom, a restored exterior entrance railing and a new emergency exit to meet safety codes.
Larry Lawrence, Physical Plant director, said workers would create a Grand Hallway in McCastlain, connecting East Commons to the Baum Gallery.
Seymour envisions a building where students and the Conway community are drawn to art exhibits, author readings, performances and musical events.
“That would be more in line with McCastlain’s original function. What started out as a building for dining and socializing will come full circle as a premier venue for campus and community events and celebrations,” Seymour said.
Newton said UCA plans to finish the first phase of projects between spring 2015 and summer 2016.