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Changes for the first floor

Aug. 30 Gaston Avenue Reopening

Dr. James S. Cole cuts the ribbon to the Gaston
Avenue entrance, signifying his last act as dean.

Photos by Steven Doll

Ribbon cutting at refurbished Gaston Avenue entryway signals Cole’s last act as dean, big changes for college’s first floor

Cheers and applause rose from the crowd of 30 faculty and staff clustered on the freshly paved sidewalk as Dr. James S. Cole performed his last official act as dean: cutting the ribbon at the college’s refurbished Gaston Avenue entryway.

“Thank you especially to Dale and his crew in facilities services for getting this done in the nick of time,” Cole said, drawing laughter from onlookers, as his retirement would commence within the hour. “This literally will be my last act as dean,” he said, as he prepared to cut the maroon ribbon emblazoned with a silver Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry seal.

Aug. 30 Gaston Avenue Reopening
Pat Lopez (back), regional human resources director, and Moira
Allen (front), director of student affairs, enter the revamped
entryway and vestibule.

The impromptu celebration on that steamy Aug. 30 morning was one several months in the making. In March, Cole first shared with Dale Christensen, executive director of facilities services, his desire for the entryway to be refurbished. Shortly afterward, Christensen began meeting with architects, engineers and contractors to create a conceptual design.

“The main goal was to make the entrance more user friendly,” says Christensen. The revamped entryway now features several design improvements, including a mid-landing to break up what were previously eight or nine continuous steps. This mezzanine is even outfitted with benches to provide a comfortable rest area.

The vestibule was expanded and enlarged, so that doors no longer create congestion with patients as they enter and exit the facility. A water trapping system was installed to keep moisture from entering the building where it could create a wet floor.  A new canopy creates a shield from rain and the elements, and security cameras and lights make for a safer patient environment.

“One of the really nice things is that when people enter the building they will be able to see the atrium,” Christensen says, noting that the information desk that previously blocked the view has been removed.

The entryway upgrades are a major element in the remodel of the first floor area. There are many aesthetic changes still to come.

Now that construction is completed on the entryway and predoctoral oral surgery clinic — another summer renovation project — crews can lay new porcelain floor surfaces on all first floor common areas, an undertaking slated for completion by year’s end.

By early October, the Oral and Maxillofacial Imaging Center will be housed on the first floor. All five elevator cabs are in the process of upgrades, which feature new slate walls and wood floors. All four patient floors from the basement to the third floor will bear new electronic directories complete with LCD screens. Directories at the Hall Street entry in the basement and two locations on the first floor will even feature interactive touch screens, and have the capability to share weather and news reports.

Aug. 30 Gaston Avenue Reopening
Katherine St. John, the first patient to enter the Gaston
Avenue doors after the entryway's remodel, follows
faculty and staff into the building.

The changes aren’t entirely cosmetic.

All of the college’s 189 steel-cased windows that were pre-1971 have been replaced, and by late August, only trim work remained on the interior windows. Even the building’s air handlers, serving the first floor and originally dating to the 1970s, were replaced to allow better temperature control.

“This is all tied to the first floor in one way or another,” Christensen says of the entryway and other upgrades. “It’s been a very busy year.”

The pace won’t let up for the foreseeable future. The goal is to be finished with the first floor projects by spring 2012, says Christensen, who credits Cole with allocating funds to make the entryway and first floor project possible.

“Dr. Cole is a visionary who really, really changed the building for the better,” Christensen says.