In early August, students and faculty at the Woodbridge campus of Northern Virginia Community College pushed open the doors to a $5.1 million addition doubling the size of the campus and providing long-awaited facilities such as teacher offices and a 190-seat auditorium.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that because of the pinch on state revenues, the spanking new classrooms and laboratories are not filled with shiny new desks and chairs. In fact, some of them are empty.
Woodbridge campus Provost Lionel Sylvas said money for the new furnishings and equipment was frozen to offset cuts in state funding to the $67 million budget of the five-campus two-year college.
Making the sweet news of the annex a little more gritty, a few weeks after the facility's opening NOVA President Richard J. Ernst announced the layoff of nearly 30 administrators and teachers and a hiring freeze on 76 vacant positions at all five campuses. As a result, the Woodbridge campus lost three people on its staff and several classes have been consolidated.
The recents events have tempered excitement over the campus's new annex.
"We're very thrilled about the new facility," Sylvas said. "However, we're not too thrilled about not having equipment for those classrooms that have been so adequately provided."
Disappointments over used furniture and a few empty rooms have not overshadowed the new 69,000-square-foot annex, however.
"The main thing is that the needs of our students are being met," said Charles Errico, division chairman of social sciences, who has been teaching at the Woodbridge campus since 1975. "They're not sitting at the best desks, but they're okay."
In addition to the annex, several areas in the original building, constructed in 1975, have been renovated.
Said business student Jennifer Bayer, 20: "I think it looks better. It really looked ugly before. It's good they are improving it."
Better air conditioning scored high on Bayer's critique of the new building. "It's cooler," she said, "or maybe it's because the classrooms are bigger."
The new facility was proposed in 1978, not long after the Woodbridge campus's original building was completed. But in recent years, rapid regional growth created a need for more space. State legislators finally approved funding for the addition in the mid-1980s and construction began in spring 1989.
"We've been extremely crowded for the last four to five years to the point where we ran out of classrooms" during peak hours, which are 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Errico said. To accommodate more students, NOVA rented classroom space at night at nearby Potomac High School.
Now most of the new classrooms are in use.
One of the more significant changes resulting from the annex is offices for most of the 65 full-time professors.
"I worked here for 15 years in a cubicle," said English professor Robert Kilmer. "And I'm not the only one either." Most teachers were given large rooms with partitions as office walls, making private student-teacher conferences difficult, said Kilmer, who relishes his small office.
Included in the annex, designed by the Chicago architecture firm Perkins & Will, are 11 classrooms and small laboratories, as well as expansions of the library and the natural science and computer laboratories.
Still under construction, the 190-seat auditorium will replace the cafeteria, which formerly had to open into a wall-less faculty lounge for large audiences for lectures and plays. The faculty lounge now is enclosed.
To get furniture for the new facility, Sylvas said, the Woodbridge campus had to "beg, borrow and steal." The results of that procurement process contrast with the new rooms: old wooden student desks, a warehouse variety of plastic chairs and long, scuffed-up fold-out tables.
One teacher joked that the desks have Franklin D. Roosevelt-era graffiti carved in them. Sylvas, who has been provost since 1978, teased that his grandfather could have been one of the first users of the campus's newly acquired desks.
More painful than old furniture has been the lack of money to buy more equipment for the computer laboratories. The campus has acquired 22 computers, but needs more, Sylvas said.
Last week, the campus was abuzz not only with students, some of whom had begun classes for the fall semester and others who were enrolling, but also with construction workers.
Sylvas said the subcontractor, who had planned to complete construction last spring, has said all construction will be finished by October.
The delay has caused mild heartburn for students and teachers. "The library is not open yet. It's dead," said first-semester student Pat Conners, 18, who complained that the construction also was a "tad bit noisy."
The only person who seemed to be complaining about the new building last week was the lead groundskeeper, Ernest Huss. "It's increased my workload 100 percent," he said.