Green and Gold … and Pink

By Megan Willome

Collins Residence Hall reopens following renovation

When Collins Hall reopened to welcome fall freshmen, the women residents got a surprise. They saw not only green and gold, but also a new color — one worthy of the generations of #CollinsCuties who have called the residence hall home: pink.

“It’s a soft blush. We went on the safe side. We were never allowed to use pink — only green, gold or neutral,” said Katherine Speckmiear, interior designer with RBDR Architects. “If they okay pink, we’re adding it in a subtle way. It was fun to see something different.”

RBDR has worked on buildings throughout Baylor University’s campus, including the Hankamer Cashion Academic Center, the Margaret and Weldon Ratliff Performance Center and The Stacy Riddle Forum.

The Collins remodel comes in the middle of an ambitious plan to renovate 10 residence halls in 10 years.

“The whole process of renovating 10 residence halls is part of a master plan. We started with the Russells — North and South — then Penland, Martin, now Collins. There are five more to come,” said Nichole Bekken, architect and construction project manager at Baylor. Work has already begun on Memorial Hall and Alexander Hall. “They came offline at the end of May. We’re tracking toward end of June next year.”

Design for both Allen and Dawson halls is underway. The final residence to be renovated will be Kokernot Hall.

Tiffany Lowe, director for Campus Living & Learning, says the university didn’t want to start with Collins because it’s the biggest residence hall, with the most history.

“We had a series of criteria — what each hall had, what each hall needed. With each renovation we’ve gotten better,” she said. “I’ve been at Baylor for 12 years, and we sometimes get requests to live in other halls, but it’s a one-off versus the number of requests we get for Collins. An incoming student will say, ‘My mom lived here,’ or, ‘My sister lived here,’ or, ‘My grandmother lived here — can I live here?’ What we wanted to do was honor that in a way that’s welcoming to new generations.”

Bekken says that Collins retained as many room numbers as possible, since, across the years, a lot of mothers and daughters have lived in the same room.

“I just heard someone ask about a specific room number today,” she said.

To celebrate that multigenerational history, Lowe says Collins alumnae shared their recollections of life in the residence hall.

“One really neat feature, we put out a call to Baylor alums: ‘If you have a Collins memory, share with us.’ We got hundreds of submissions,” she said. Those have been gathered into a wall graphic that hangs in the lobby. “My mother would probably stand there for 45 minutes and read everyone’s stories.”

Built in 1957, the hall was named for Elza Ruth Woodall Collins. She and her husband, Baylor Trustee Carr P. Collins, made large financial contributions to the university. When Collins was constructed, it was the largest building in Waco — even bigger than the ALICO.

Collins Residence Hall now serves 466 women, all first-years. That’s fewer students than before, but the new pod-style bathrooms make up for it. Students still walk into a community bath, but there are seven doors, giving each person her own bathroom space with a lockable door.

“The traditional community bathrooms were stalls — toilet stalls, shower stalls. With the pods there’s a shower, toilet and sink in a room. Think of your own house, your own bathroom — it’s all enclosed. You take your clothes into the pod, get everything done in morning in your own space,” Bekken said. “There are fourteen pods per floor, seven per side.”

Lowe says the arrangement allows the community to interact, while providing privacy.

“You still get to say hello, but then have privacy in the bathroom,” she said.

Speckmiear says the new private spaces within the pods are a big step up from the few private rooms with bathtubs in the old building.

“We weren’t sure what they were for — maybe for women to shave their legs? We thought it was funny,” she said.

The renovation included a lot of nitty-gritty upgrades that will enhance the living experience for freshman, including replacing the HVAC system, electric system, plumbing and more.

“Security, IT — all of that was replaced. We regraded the whole parking lot to get ADA accommodations. It’s a big perk,” Bekken said. “For the HVAC, it went from centralized heat and air to more localized control for girls, fan-coil units with a Dedicated Outside Air System. It means setting the temperature for two rooms specifically.”

Lowe adds that in the past, “It was, ‘This is the temp for the entire building. Enjoy.’”

New residents also gain something they’ve wanted for years — shared community space. The first floor was upgraded with this need in mind.

“Previously Collins had a dining hall and cafeteria. That was taken offline in 2014, so we had all this square footage — 5,000 to 6,000 square feet. What can we do with it?” Lowe said. “What’s amazing about the renovation is we took all the dining space and created it purposefully, so it could be part of community.”

That new space is called the Commons. It has a skylight and an electric fireplace, plus a renovated fitness room.

“The Commons accommodates a new reception and lobby area, a classroom, a seminar/conference room, a game room, larger public restrooms and various study spaces and arrangements,” Bekken said. “Students also get a community kitchen — a place to commune and break bread.”

And the old, dark hallways have been brightened, partially through removing a few bedrooms on the ends of the building.

“Removing student bedrooms to bring in natural light and provide additional community and study space for the students is common practice during our residence hall renovations. At Collins specifically, we did remove a couple bedrooms per floor for additional quiet study space, but we installed glass walls along the corridor to allow natural light into the building,” Bekken said.

Another change to Collins is a brand-new entrance, facing Pat Neff Hall.

“When you think about the original front door on 8th Street, they may have thought campus would grow that direction, but campus has grown the other way,” Lowe said. “We kept the 8th Street entrance, so if they’re parking across the street they don’t have to walk too far. But the main entry point, the hub, faces Pat Neff.”

In addition to apartments for the residence hall director, assistant director and two chaplains, Collins welcomes its first faculty in residence.

“First and foremost, it’s the idea that faculty can be part of the community and become a part of your experience. It makes faculty more accessible — to be able to connect with them, ask questions, visit with them outside of office hours,” Lowe said. “Baylor staff considers their work missional, and Baylor faculty are no different. Those called to live in community with students, that makes the community so much more special. They have their own space, their own apartment. They have privacy as needed, but they can invite students into their home or have them over for a meal or hang out in the lobby and provide chats and encouragement.”

DuBois Furniture provided residential furniture for the faculty and staff apartments at Collins. It’s the first time the university has contracted with the homegrown retailer. Co-owner Erin DuBois is not only a Baylor alum, but a Collins alum as well.

“I lived in Collins, on the third floor. I was in 326 — one of the ones that they were able to keep the room number the same,” DuBois said. “My sorority pledge class had their 25-year reunion, and we got to walk through and see all our old rooms before the renovation started. And to see what it is now — the bathrooms are fabulous compared to what we lived through. They did a wonderful job of getting natural light in everywhere. And how they reoriented the front of the building, now facing into campus instead of being on the outskirts.”

Her husband, Michael, is also a Baylor alum, and they have a son who is a junior.

DuBois said Michael gets all the credit for the furnishings of the staff apartments.

“Michael worked his magic on designing things that would work with various tastes. This was definitely his creative genius, coming up with things that would work through all the spaces,” she said.

The apartments for the chaplains, assistant residence hall director and hall director are smaller, and the one for the faculty member and their family has four bedrooms. The family brought their own bedroom furniture, but DuBois outfitted the living room, kitchen and dining room.

“One of our most challenging items, they wanted a 10-person dining table to host groups of students and family. It was trickier with the flow of the room, but it all came together beautifully,” she said.

Because different people will live in the staff apartments over the years, DuBois wanted to choose pieces that worked with the overall aesthetic of the hall.

“The sofas are the same for all five apartments. That way if they need to interchange things, like borrow a chair from the apartment next door for something, they can. Everything blends between all five apartments, but then there’s a little variation that makes each apartment unique.”

DuBois says the renovation was a “monster project,” but she is so grateful they got to work with Baylor.

“We were thrilled when we were selected,” she said. “It was a lengthy process — a lot of review and refinement. But really gratifying once everything got moved in.”

Another local partner, Total Office Solutions, provided office and classroom furniture, as it has for many Baylor buildings. Student bedroom furniture, both at Collins and at other residence halls, came from Southwest Contract, in Temple. Furniture for the game room, lobby and lounge areas came from Austin’s SKG.

Lowe says housing options matter to students, but a residence hall is not the most important thing they weigh when choosing a university.

“People hold that equally in their hands with the Baylor values and what Baylor is. The facility can impact the community, but the community is still what it is,” she said. “We’ve learned over the years that students like what’s new, they like amenities, but the reality is those things can be passing, they can come and go. What stays is the community and the experience. That’s what we’re trying to make sure Collins does.”