The first time university officials approached Henry W. Bloch about a donation to help expand the University of Missouri-Kansas City business school that already bore his name, he turned them down flat.
“I said I had no interest,” the 91-year-old co-founder of H Block said Thursday, sitting in the new state-of-the-art business school expansion that he subsequently gave $32 million to build.
The Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, just north of the existing Henry W. Bloch School of Management, will open for classes Monday on the UMKC campus.
After his initial lack of interest, Bloch said, he weighed the business school’s needs along with a long list of other projects on the university’s wish list.
“I figured there was no use putting it on the list,” Bloch said, because “I won’t be here when you get around to build it.”
But then, he said, “the more I thought, the more I decided we need to do something now, and I’d like to be around when it opens up.”
On Thursday, sitting next to his good friend Bill Dunn, whose family company, J.E. Dunn, was the lead contractor, Bloch and key members of the project team shared information about the 68,000-square-foot building that is among the top business school facilities in the nation.
A preview tour of the four-story expansion showcased state-of-the-art technology and architectural innovations that are helping the Bloch school grow in enrollment and reputation.
School leaders cited the school’s ranking in 2011 by the Journal of Product Innovation Management as the world’s top academic site for innovation management research, rated among 625 universities.
The new facility, completed on a two-year design/build schedule, houses classrooms, meeting spaces, administrative offices, a 200-seat auditorium and an open four-story central atrium that can function as a casual amphitheater with a large video wall.
The older business school building could accommodate a maximum of 80 people in its largest space, which limited the functions that could be held there. The new building has multiple open and expandable areas for group gatherings.
Among the new hall’s features is a “finance lab,” a mock stock trading floor. Each desk is equipped with dual screens, and a stock ticker runs above the room’s windows.
That space, along with others in the new glass and terra cotta building, points to the school’s “experiential learning” goal — a teaching philosophy that students do best with hands-on learning.
“We could only go so far without a new building to accommodate that vision,” said acting business dean David Donnelly.
Another room holds a behavioral research laboratory for on-the-spot experiments that help business students understand human behavior.
The building’s six more traditional classrooms also break traditional molds. Each is equipped with movable desks, chairs and carts for computer screens. Gone are traditional classroom fronts or backs. Learning environments can be reconfigured at will. Some walls are movable whiteboards. Multimedia screens allow digital connections.
“We’ve already done training sessions with the Bloch faculty so they’ll be able to use all the new equipment,” said Bob Simmons, UMKC’s associate vice chancellor of facilities, who served on the building’s project team. “There’s more technology in the finance lab alone than there was in the entire old building.”
There’s also an area with adult-size beanbag chairs and colorful furniture that looks like a grown-up preschool lounge. Technically, it’s the “design-led innovation lab,” an area designed to foster casual brainstorming.
Donnelly said the new building can handle 800 students at any given moment. The expansion allows the business school to serve 1,150 undergraduates, 700 graduate students and 800 others in non-degree certificate programs.
The project team included architects from BNIM and Moore Ruble Yudell; contractor J.E. Dunn Construction; engineers from Structural Engineering Associates, M.E. Group and SK Design Group; and other work from the Sextant Group, FSC Inc. and Derek Porter Studio.
The building, on track to receive LEED gold certification for sustainable building practices, came in on time and on budget.
UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton emphasized that “ we would not be sitting here if it weren’t for Henry Bloch.”
Morton said it is to Bloch’s credit that the business school now has a building “designed to educate students of the future” as well as today.
The school’s business dean, Teng-Kee Tan, was unable to attend the Thursday preview of the new building, but his words were repeated by several speakers: “The path to innovation is never a straight line.”
That path, they said, incorporated challenging curves into the building’s design. And it included getting past an initial funding “no.”