Central Delaware
Renovations wrapping up at Wesley College
Wesley College president Dr. William Johnston tours the renovations and improvements inside Wesley Chapel Friday morning. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — As the school year gets underway, Delaware’s oldest private college is finishing up work around campus, especially in Longwood Hall and Wesley College Chapel.

This summer in Longwood Hall, Wesley College officials made plans to paint and update the building. The classrooms were also outfitted with new technology, including smart boards, projectors and computers.

“The quality things about these classrooms is that they’re nice sized, better equipped … these just lend themselves better to teachers,” Wesley President Dr. William Johnston remarked on Friday afternoon, after peaking into a freshman seminar class meeting on the ground floor of the building. He said renovations cost about $250,000.

Students at Campus Community School, kids in first through seventh grade, once took classes in Longwood Hall.

When Campus Community opened in 1998, Wesley College offered the building on North Bradford Street to the charter school to use for its elementary program. To make way for Wesley’s planned expansions, though, Campus Community moved classes to its facility on Pear Street in 2012.

This year, Longwood Hall will primarily house the college’s art, psychology and kinesiology programs, Dr. Johnston said.

Art students used to crowded on the third floor of Wesley College Chapel for their classes. This year, they’re finally able to work in a studio.

Faculty worked hard to get the space ready. On Friday afternoon, statues and busts were set up on tables in the new space, easels standing around them. Crates of art books lined the wall; sketch pads and canvasses were piled in shelves. Stools were stacked in the corner.

“I can’t believe how much this has transformed, because when I saw this a week ago it was just boxes,” Dr. Johnston said when he walked in.

And psychology students received an observation lab when they moved to Longwood Hall this year. A wide glass window was installed in the wall between two rooms, so that students can watch and take notes on classes’ behavior in the lab.
On Friday, Ray Phillips, an associate professor of kinesiology, was lecturing on the bottom floor of the building — his class seated in front of ellipticals, exercise balls, tread mills, soccer balls.

Classes for the program used to meet in spare lecture space in Wesley residence halls, Dr. Johnston said. But the psychology and kinesiology programs at the college have both almost doubled in size in the past eight years.

On Friday, workers were also busy finishing the first in a series of renovations at Wesley College Chapel, on the corner of South Bradford and Division streets.

They added spotlights for the stage and pulpit, a drop-down screen in front of the pulpit, a projector and a sound system — the sound booth in the back painted carefully match the church.

Hope United Methodist Church meets at the chapel on Sundays, but the space is also used for short performances and student presentations.

“We’re transforming this facility into a worship and performance area,” Dr. Johnston said.

“This is really going to enhance the arts — not just for the college, but for the community.”

The project was underwritten by a donor who attended Wesley College in the 1960s and fell in love with music there, he said.

The next step in the chapel renovations will take place over winter break, and include enlarging the stage and taking out pews for more flexible seating. Over the summer, there’s plans to put in a new roof.

Aside from the changes at Wesley College Chapel and Longwood Hall, students also returned to campus to find more access to wireless internet, updated technology in classrooms, bathrooms redone in the student center, and new furniture. The residence halls, too, were painted in colors chosen by students — bright blocks of red and blue.

Constructions is also complete in the parking lot behind the admissions building — about 40 spaces have been added, and they fill up quickly, Dr. Johnston said.

The renovations at Wesley come on the heels of the college’s $2.7 million streetscape project, which wrapped up in August 2012. The college built two outdoor plazas and replaced sections of North Bradford, Fulton and Cecil streets with sidewalks, unifying the campus and making it easier for students to walk from class to class.

Students were milling around the plaza on Friday afternoon enjoying the late summer day, many seated on benches, some chatting and others with laptops open, catching up on homework.

“That’s a transformation for us,” Dr. Johnston said as he watched them.

And by January, work should be done on Wesley’s next big project: the downtown J. Frear Federal Building, a 36,000-square-foot decommissioned government building the college bought in 2010 to accommodate its growing nursing program. Remodeling the interior space will cost an estimated $2.2 million and allow for at least five new classrooms for the nursing program.

Staff writer Eleanor La Prade can be reached at 741-8242 or Follow DSNEleanor on Twitter.