Overhaul en route for MJC building

After entering Modesto Junior College's Founders Hall, it doesn't take long to detect the building's old age.

Classrooms are small, with old-fashioned decorative white, square tiles hanging high on walls. Sometimes they fall during class. Those same yellowed or beige walls show stains from where students have rested their heads and backs. Computer, telephone, Internet, DVD-VCR player, projector and TV wires are strung along floors and walls. Ventilation is poor, making air stale and stuffy. Holes, water stains and exposed outlets dot walls and ceilings.

Founders Hall is long overdue for a face-lift. And it's getting one, starting this fall.

The renovation represents one of the most difficult construction projects funded by Measure E, the $326 million in school bonds passed by voters in 2004. It will shut down MJC's largest and busiest classroom and office building for nearly two years.

"So many students rely on that building for their classes," said Megane Queromes, a political science student and director of political development for MJC's student government. Queromes said she's had an average of three classes a semester in Founders.

"Old is great. I love old. But it's a little old. It'll be nice to have a new building," she said.

Known as the hub of MJC, the two-story Founders Hall on the east campus is home to 46 classrooms, 90 faculty offices, and several writing, math and computer labs. Students and staff will be housed in temporary portables on a nearby parking lot, affectionately named Pirates Village after MJC's mascot.

Though the 1970s-era Founders Hall is stuffy, mildewy and worn out, it's skeleton is strong and sturdy, said Matt Kennedy, program manager at Kitchell, the firm handling Measure E projects.

The $12 million renovation will provide new floors, ceilings and wall coverings; disabled-accessible doors, elevators and bathrooms; a new, energy-efficient heating and cooling system; and infrastructure and wiring upgrades. The funding also will fit classrooms with new technology, equipment and furniture.

Instructors are happy about the upgrades, but hope they amount to more than new carpet and a coat of paint.

One of the most important renovations will be the building's ventilation system, said English instructor Sam Pierstorff.

"It's been about 30 or 40 years of dust in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. It's jokingly, and perhaps lovingly, considered a death trap," he said. "We look forward to the renovation, but the hassle will be hard."

Shuffling classes, students and instructors to Pirates Village is expected to be a major headache. Construction on Founders Hall will start in September and should be finished by January 2012.

The parking lot off Tully Road just south of MJC's football field and track is closed and will be home to Pirates Village's 39 portables starting with the fall semester. Some classes and offices will be spread across other buildings on the east and west campuses.

Though enrollment usually drops 3 percent to 5 percent during construction on major college classroom buildings, officials think demand for classes will fill that hole.

"It'll be a hardship for many students, and teachers as well. Founders Hall has classes all day long," said student Pauline Rosado. "(Construction) will be a massive mess. But Founders is so old and a hazard."

And to combat student confusion, officials will post sandwich board signs warning of the construction and featuring maps of Pirates Village.

After renovation, Founders Hall is expected to have slightly fewer rooms -- 43 classrooms and 75 offices. But, Kennedy pointed out, classrooms will have better technology and offices will be larger. Some offices and departments will be permanently relocated to other buildings on the east or west campuses.

"With all the other buildings we're building, we don't need more classrooms, we need better classrooms (in Founders Hall)," Kennedy said. "Technology has changed dramatically since the '70s."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339.