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A rendering of the exterior of the  Sharvy Umbeck Science and Mathematics Center

SMC Renovations Phase 1


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Galesburg, IL 61401


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Re-imagining the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center (SMC)

Science and science education have changed profoundly since SMC opened in 1971. Courses are more discussion-based and hands-on. Students work with technologies that no one could imagine even a few decades ago. Independent research has become a critical component of the Knox curriculum, with students taking on projects as early as their first year.

As a result, the classes we offer within SMC today are both smaller in size and less lecture-oriented than they were when SMC was designed. At the same time, the boundaries between academic disciplines—psychology and biochemistry, or physics and biology—are no longer as distinct as SMC's four separate wings seem to imply.

The planned renovations re-envision Knox's science facility to ensure that our faculty and students can continue to do transformative teaching and learning.

Working with faculty from every SMC department, and architects Holabird & Root, this phased plan of attack will deliver immediate improvements to the student experience within the core of the building, while laying the groundwork for improvements to each of SMC's wings.

Priority 1: Create a Vibrant Welcome to the Sciences

To transform SMC into a space that reflects the ambitions of the people who work and study there, that helps catalyze their insights into meaningful discoveries, and that attracts the brightest and boldest thinkers to our campus, we're undertaking a dramatic, multi-phase renovation of the building, beginning with the central core and adding much-needed collaborative space to the entrance of the building.

Cross-section of atrium addition to Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center (SMC)

Cross-section of Expanded Atrium—This addition brings light to the core of the building and offers seating and study space for students and visitors.

Priority 2: Create a Science Commons

The Amott Science Commons (named in honor of Knox President Teresa Amott) offers a full range of technology-rich study areas, including individual study carrels, study rooms that can accommodate up to six people, and a seminar room for 10. The space is currently designed to accommodate 133 students, with 2,800 linear feet of shelving for science books and journals. (As more of these resources become available online, this shelving can be removed, making way for expanded collaborative work and study space.)

View of science commons in the center of the first floor

Science Commons—The central core of the first floor was transformed to a science commons, housing reference materials and offering space for students to work in groups or study alone.

Priority 3: Add Flexible Classroom Space

The entire core of SMC's second floor is devoted to teaching and learning with six modernized classrooms.

The largest of these includes a motorized wall that, at the touch of a switch, can be raised to accommodate as many as 96 students in a single room, or lowered to create two classrooms for teaching 48 students. To ensure maximum visibility, chairs and tables of gradually increasing height are arranged to create clear sightlines from every area of the room.

View of second floor classroom, which can accommodate up to 96 students

Second Floor Classroom—An adjustable wall at its center allows the room to expand to accommodate up to 96 students.

Surrounding this large classroom are four smaller classrooms designed for classes of 24 to 36 students. Each includes a high-tech video display, walls lined with a variety of writing surfaces, and lightweight tables and chairs that can be easily rearranged when students need to work in groups. Flexible classroom furnishings invite collaborative learning and allow faculty to move easily among students to offer one-on-one instruction.

Priority 4: Lay Groundwork for Future Renovations

Phase 1 of the SMC renovation has added important updates to the building's mechanical, electrical, and safety systems with an eye toward increasing energy efficiency and comfort control. Air handling units and ventilation systems replaced in the core of the building provide enhanced capacity to serve both the Phase 1 addition and subsequent additions to the wings. Electrical systems are upgraded, including lighting, lighting control, and power distribution, and a fire sprinkler system was added to the core. Both enhancements include capacity and provisions for future phases of the renovation.

Future phased renovations to the building, to follow upon completion of the core, will focus on the four wings. Each of the wings will include state-of-the-art laboratories, seminar rooms, and classrooms. Faculty will move into bright, windowed offices in glass-enclosed expansions on both the north and south faces of the building, across from the first floor science commons and second floor classrooms. These additions will bring scholars from every discipline in closer proximity to each other, further fostering an interdisciplinary community.

SMC Exterior viewed from West Street


Holabird & Root


$12.4 million

Thanks to the more than 180 donors who have made the amazing renovations to the central core of SMC possible. $1.4 million remains to be raised to completed the phase.


Renovations began in December 2018 and the renovated central core was available for classes January 2020. A new rooftop observatory classroom and dome to support the astronomy program and also for community offerings will be usable by summer 2021. While not part of the original SMC renovation plan, gifts from wonderful donors are making this unique venue available for Knox students and the community.


Transformation of the central core

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Printed on Saturday, March 25, 2023