A New Chapter

A New Chapter

The building in which generations of Baylor University students have studied religion and history will soon receive the first top-to-bottom makeover in its 65-year history.

Restoration of the seven-story Tidwell Bible Building is one of the capital projects included in Give Light, Baylor’s $1.1 billion comprehensive philanthropic campaign. Give Light calls for Tidwell’s 57,000 square feet to undergo a significant renovation to improve infrastructure and “dramatically expand and enhance academic instruction, modernize the learning environment, provide collaboration spaces for students and shape faculty offices for greater interaction with colleagues and students.”

More efficient space 

When the Tidwell Bible Building opened in 1954, it was home to the departments of religion, history, sociology, philosophy, sacred music and German. Today, it houses the religion and history departments.

The only large-scale renovation the building has had since its opening was completed in the spring of 1979. In that $500,000 facelift, new lights and a newer elevator were installed, air conditioning and heating systems were rebuilt and the entire structure was repainted and carpeted. 

Architectural renderings of the proposed Tidwell renovations show a redesigned lobby area.

In the 40 years since, a number of needs have surfaced due to the growth of the University. The faculty and staff of the two departments located in Tidwell must work to fit comfortably inside a building designed to meet the space needs Baylor had many decades ago.

“The religion department is out of space,” said Dr. William Bellinger, chair and professor of religion and The W. Marshall and Lulie Craig Chair in Bible. “When we hire somebody new, if they are replacing someone who has just retired, we can use that office. But beyond that, we have nowhere to put anybody else.” 

Bellinger said the lack of available space also is affecting Baylor’s graduate religion program.

“We have a pretty robust graduate program with about 60 PhD students, and they are making a significant contribution to our community. But we basically have no space for them,” he said. “This is a real issue because now, if a graduate student is a teacher of record in a class, we have to have some kind of office space for them. It often is a small office that is shared with two or three other people, and it’s difficult for them to juggle their schedules to make sure they have a quiet, professionally appropriate place to meet with their students.” 

To increase their available office space, administrators in the history department have made use of some do-it-yourself remodeling projects.

“We have been trying to figure out if we can convert our map room into office space, now that most faculty use electronic maps,” said Dr. Barry Hankins, chair and professor of history. “We have also converted a storage room next to the map room into an office.”  

Both department chairs said that what faculty offices are available in Tidwell are not placed and sized efficiently. Some offices are very large, while other offices are tiny, or are offices with multiple faculty sharing the same space. And the placement of offices is rarely ideal for collaboration.

“With the renovation of Tidwell, we’ll have a more logical way of grouping faculty offices together,” Bellinger said.

“The new, renovated Tidwell is going to have standard size offices, and everyone is going to have one, including some additional new space for graduate students,” Hankins said. “The efficiency of space is going to be greatly improved.”

The Tidwell renovation plans call for new office and work spaces on every floor, as well as the creation of 13 classrooms –– five 30-person rooms, five 40-person rooms and three classrooms that can hold as many as 60 people each. Both the religion and history departments will have designated seminar rooms, resource library space, staff work rooms and reception and lounge areas. In addition, an elevator will be added to provide unrestricted access to the fourth, fifth and sixth floors.

Miller’s new mission

Tidwell will gain a large amount of new space for offices and classrooms through what is possibly the most significant design change in the project –– the transformation of Miller Chapel to educational space. Miller Chapel is a large, two-story structure connected to the Tidwell building on the southeast side, and since its opening in 1954, many weddings, musical performances and religious services have been held there. However, the opening of Truett Seminary’s Paul Powell Chapel, Robbins Chapel in Brooks College and Elliston Chapel in East Village over the past two decades have greatly reduced the number of events held in Miller Chapel.

Rendering of the sixth-floor prayer room

“Nowadays there is seldom a wedding in Miller Chapel,” Bellinger said. “We do use it for visiting lecturers, and a few choirs use it for rehearsals, but other than that it is used only sporadically.”

The renovation plans call for Miller Chapel to contain two full floors of work space for faculty and students, including more than 30 new faculty offices. The large stained glass windows surrounding the Chapel will remain, and a two-story-high passageway around the inside perimeter of the building will allow sunshine to stream through the windows. 

Even though Miller Chapel will no longer host religious services, the renovation plans call for worship space to remain in the building by way of a prayer room to be built on Tidwell’s sixth floor, overlooking the campus.

In addition to changes in the building’s layout, the Tidwell restoration will provide much-needed modern updates to the building’s infrastructure, including heating, air conditioning, mechanical and electrical systems.

Rendering of second-floor offices inside the repurposed Miller Chapel, featuring the iconic stained glass windows

Dr. Lee C. Nordt, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said that giving one of Baylor’s most familiar buildings some much-needed attention is long overdue.

“The Tidwell Bible Building is an icon here at Baylor University, as every undergraduate student passes through its hallways to take courses as part of their core curriculum,” Nordt said. “But Tidwell is in need of a considerable upgrade. This project will renovate the infrastructure, revamp classrooms and increase much needed space for faculty offices. When it’s completed, Tidwell will be ready to serve many new generations of Baylor students.” 

UPDATE: On April 25, 2019, Baylor University announced that The Sunderland Foundation of Overland Park, Kansas, has given a $15 million leadership gift toward the restoration of Tidwell Bible Building.