Ann Ardis, the dean of George Mason University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, is looking forward to getting into the college’s new offices in Horizon Hall. It will be nice, she said, to have many of the college’s departments and interdisciplinary programs in one location rather than spread out over the Fairfax Campus.
But Ardis is also excited about what Horizon Hall will mean for teaching and learning when the building opens four classrooms on Jan. 25, the start of the spring semester.
The active learning classrooms in the first two floors of the building are a “huge” new asset for the university community, Ardis said.
The six-floor, 218,000-square-foot building is the centerpiece of the Core Campus Project that is transforming the center of the Fairfax Campus with a new and expanded Wilkins Plaza (including the memorial to the enslaved people of George Mason), a renovated Harris Theatre, new green space, and an upgrade to the university’s utility infrastructure.
Though there is still plenty of work to be done—the old Robinson Hall B must be torn down to make room for the terraced amphitheater and meditation garden—the opening of Horizon Hall represents a significant milestone, especially considering the challenges from COVID-19.
“As a result of COVID, we’ve had supply chain challenges. We’ve had labor challenges,” said Cathy Pinskey, capital program director in Mason’s Facilities department. “But we really stayed focused on trying to make up the time where we could, and because we opened up lines of communication with people really early, it helped to get to the goal to be open at the end of January.”
When students show up for classes, the only thing remaining to be completed should be some furniture installation to the upper floors.
Classrooms are spacious and can accommodate from 24 to 120 students, though COVID restrictions will limit class sizes to 30% or 40% of capacities, Pinskey said.
All classes are equipped for video collaboration and instruction. The Mason Innovation Exchange (MIX) will also be located in Horizon Hall.
“Horizon Hall’s opening is significant because it successfully showcases our commitment to building classrooms and learning spaces that truly support active, engaged student learning in face-to-face and hybrid modalities,” said Kim Eby, Mason’s associate provost for faculty affairs and development. “This commitment was articulated in our most recent strategic plan and it’s incredible to see this come to fruition.”
“The entire building is designed to enable student engagement and opportunities for student learning and collaboration,” Ardis said. “There will be places for students to work by themselves or in small groups and study spaces where students can engage with faculty.”
She called the building a “game changer.”
“Bringing students to that building, and recruiting students to Mason by walking them through Horizon Hall and through Wilkins Plaza, that’s going to be such a positive,” Ardis said.
On a recent December day, workers were moving furniture and putting the final touches on staircases and rooms. There was the occasional rattle of a circular saw. Pinskey called it controlled chaos.
“I’ll be excited to see people in it, to see people using it. That’s the most rewarding part,” she said of Horizon Hall. “It’s nice to see it coming together. Yeah, it’s exciting.