New media center set to open this fall

 Rendering courtesy of Erin Geisler

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It’s hard to miss the construction on the corner of Dean Keeton and Guadalupe streets, across from the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center. What was once parking lot F27 will now become the Belo Center for New Media, which will house the KUT Public Broadcast Center as well as parts of the College of Communication.

While the glass windows draping the Belo center’s south side are oddly reminiscent of the College of Communication Building A’s (CMA) 1970s architecture, this state-of-the-art building displays modern appeal. The $54.7 million, five-story, 120,000 square-foot building was also designed by The Lawrence Group Architects to be open and inviting, welcoming anyone in the campus community to engage with the College of Communication in a transparent environment.

The building’s namesake, The Belo Foundation, donated $12 million toward the project. Additional significant contributions were also made from several UT alumni and their families.
“We are fortunate to have three families give sizeable gifts,” said Michael Wilson, the director of development for the College of Communication. “We are where we are today because of our students. And we’re right here today to attract the best students.”

The CMA was built in 1974 to house 1,000 students. Today, the communication school has grown to more than 4,000 students and 125 faculty members, creating a need for a new building large enough to accommodate the increase in enrollment. Currently, The University of Texas prides the College of Communication for being the largest communication school in the country.

Construction on the Belo Center for New Media began in March 2010 by Flintco Inc., and is on schedule to be completed this July, in time for the fall semester to begin. The grand opening is scheduled to take place on Nov. 1.

The Belo center’s west wing includes a two-story, 20,000-square-foot space to accommodate KUT radio by including performance studio 1A, a community engagement room, KUT’s first green room, a plaza and an outdoor stage, a 300-seat auditorium and producer commons.

“Studio 1A is one of the most famous recording studios in Austin,” said Stewart Vanderbilt, KUT general manager. “Artists like Adele, John Legend and others come to the studio, but no one ever sees them because they’re hidden in the basement. With the new building, it invites the UT community into our home and makes us more transparent.”

The performance studio will seat 75 people and allow KUT to incorporate multimedia components into the station including broadcast videos and publishing features online. The producer commons will allow for interaction with all KUT employees including undergraduate and graduate student interns, music producers, marketing executives and administrators — a quality absent from their current space.

“It’s a modernized old-school newsroom that integrates intern spaces and opens the work area. We now have the space for up to 20 student interns, which we didn’t have before,” Vanderbilt said.

The remainder of the Belo center will house the College of Communication’s departments of advertising and public relations and the School of Journalism, along with upgraded classrooms and lecture halls, a student activities center, student services, administrative spaces and a cafe. The departments of radio-television-film, communication studies and communication sciences and disorders will remain in buildings A and B on the (newly renamed) Walter Cronkite Plaza.

The Belo center also incorporates several lounge areas throughout for students to interact and collaborate with each other. The second floor will house student services, encompassing the student affairs office, career services and the freshman interest groups (FIGs). The auditorium is also located on the second floor, which will be used for lectures and movie screenings during film festivals such as South By Southwest.

The third floor will house the School of Journalism, complete with a new photojournalism lab, conference room and two multi-purpose classrooms. A multimedia newsroom will also aid as an additional lecture room and provides space for the Reporting Texas staff.

“The multimedia newsroom is 24/7 and gives students a place to work, produce and report. I can’t wait for you guys to see the new building. You’re going to be blown away,” Wilson said.

The fourth floor will become home to the advertising and public relations departments, and houses four multi-purpose rooms, including a digitally enhanced classroom, and an “idea” room for students’ project development.
Finally, the dean’s office will be located on the fifth floor along with space for the award-winning speech and debate team and an equipment checkout center.

“Ultimately the college’s restoration from 1975 will provide space for people to congregate and socialize, which is impossible to do now,” Wilson said.

And while the Belo Center for New Media won’t house a Starbucks like journalism senior Allison Ashbury hoped for, she is still excited to attend classes in the new building before she graduates in December.

“I think the Belo center is a necessity for communication majors. By having more classrooms the classes won’t be as packed. Plus, I love all of the big windows of the new building. I wish the CMA had more windows,” Ashbury said.
This fall, the CMA will undergo renovations to modernize the building with robust colors, bigger spaces and brighter lights in order to serve UT’s current population. The project is anticipated to be completed in 2014.

“We are very lucky to be expanding the footprint and the dynamic teaching we have here,” Wilson said. “The new curriculum relates to what’s happening in society. And these five signature departments have great things to offer.”
For more information on the Belo Center for New Media, visit communication.utexas.edu/support/new-building