University of Akron School of Law.

 

A new school year means a new look for several law schools.

Students at the University of South Carolina School of Law returned this fall to a brand new, $80 million building. The school is holding a dedication on Sept. 14 featuring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Meanwhile, the University of Akron School of Law on Friday held a ribbon cutting Friday for its freshly renovated law campus, which cost $21 million and took two years to complete.

The University of Kentucky College of Law on Thursday unveiled plans for a $56 million renovation of its law building, which is slated to be complete in 2019.

Akron’s upgraded digs have been a hit with students so far, said law dean Christopher Peters.

“The students are ecstatic,” he said. “Those who have been here for one or two years of the construction process are absolutely thrilled with it.”

Especially popular with students is the new two-story atrium that features a gas fireplace, a café, study rooms and informal seating. The idea was to make the law school more comfortable and inviting not just to law students and faculty, but to the entire university, Peters said.

The school’s new 125-person courtroom, flooded with natural light, has also been a hit. It’s wired with state-of-the-art technology and will be used for classes, moot court competitions, public events and actual court proceedings, Peters said.

Before the renovation, the law school was cobbled together from three different buildings constructed at different times. It lacked a single entrance that served as a focal point, and the buildings did not use space efficiently, Peter said.

“Law teaching today is a lot more interactive than it used to be. There is more interaction between faculty and students, and between the students themselves,” he said. “That requires a different sort of classroom environment.”

The new classrooms are wired with Internet and cameras, allowing classes to be recorded for distance learning. The renovation also included new space for the law school clinics and career services, and well as improvements to the law library. The law school contributed $10 million to the project, with private donations accounting for an additional $7 million. The state contributed the final $5 million, Peters said.

South Carolina’s new 187,000-squre-foot law building was a long time coming. Officials have debated a new facility for nearly two decades, and spent more than 14 years raising funds for the project. The previous law school building, constructed in the early 1970’s, was in poor condition and wasn’t conducive to modern legal teaching. It lacked natural light, and was originally built without any women’s restrooms.

The school moved into the new building in May but is formally dedicating it next week. The three-story, limestone and brick columned building is located near a number of the state’s key legal institutions, including the South Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

The law school broke ground on the project in 2014. It was funded with $20 million from the state legislature, $18 million in private donations, and $42 million in borrowed funds.

The new building features a central outdoor courtyard where students can study and gather, two courtrooms, and 17 classrooms wired with the latest technology.

Law dean Robert Wilcox told The Post and Courier newspaper in May that the new building has already helped the school attract faculty, and that he hoped it would also make the school more attractive to students and help boost its U.S. News & World Report ranking.

“I’ve never known how many students didn’t come because of the old building,” Wilcox told the Post and Courier. “I’m quite certain that none came because of the old building. We have really sent the message that the school has arrived.”

The University of Kentucky broke ground Thursday on its $56 million renovation of its 1965 campus to add a main entrance and expand the footprint by more than 25 percent. It will feature a modern, 185-seat moot courtroom, in addition to a smaller courtroom. The renovation includes 11 new classrooms as well as outdoor gathering space for students. The work is scheduled to take two years.

“This project goes beyond a building,” said law dean David Brennan at the ceremony. “This project is about coming together and investing in UK Law’s future, the success of its students, its impact on public understanding of legal issues, and its engagement in law reform. It will certainly help us provide a 21st century legal education.”

 

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ