Sundoulos - Winter 2011

Talbot East

An Interview with Ken Bascom and Dennis Dirks

On Oct. 14, Talbot students, faculty, alumni and donors gathered to dedicate Talbot East, the newest building at Biola University. The dedication service celebrated the culmination of seven years of planning, fundraising and construction.

To learn more about Talbot East, Sundoulos interviewed Ken Bascom, Biola’s Director of Facilities Planning and Construction, and Dennis Dirks, the dean of Talbot School of Theology.

Sundoulos: Tell us a little about the funding for this building.

Dennis: Biola’s Development Office, led by Adam Morris, did a phenomenal job of leading the school in an $18.3 million campaign. As the doors of Talbot East open, the building is fully paid for, thanks to many generous donors. Almost 900 donors gave gifts ranging from $10 to $3 million.

Sundoulos: Who were some of those donors?

Dennis: Several alumni, parents of students, and friends of the University gave multimillion dollar gifts. Many gave gifts of tens or hundreds of thousands. Faculty and staff also donated. One family encouraged us with a large gift and this charge: “Talbot must continue to anchor Biola. It must also symbolically occupy a central place on the campus.”

Sundoulos: The donor wall in Talbot East mentions the “Miracle of May.” What was that?

Dennis: The process of soliciting funds progressed steadily until early 2010 when it became clear that the national economic downturn was significantly affecting giving. A day was set aside to call the Biola University community to 40 days of prayer and fasting. During that period of pleading with God, more than $6 million were given to the Talbot project, an amount sufficient for the Board of Trustees to approve ground-breaking in May. This was the largest donation total in a similar timeframe in the history of Biola University. God’s faithfulness in such a dramatic way was a tremendous boost and encouragement to this community.

Sundoulos: How will the opening of this building change the dynamic of Talbot, and the wider Biola University community?

Dennis: Talbot’s mission is a commitment to “the development of disciples of Jesus Christ whose thought processes, character, and lifestyles reflect those of
our Lord, and who are dedicated to disciple making throughout the world.” Disciple-building requires community. One of the great challenges Talbot has faced has been the fragmenting of community as a consequence of unceasing student enrollment growth for 20 years. Of necessity, classes and faculty and staff offices have been situated in the far corners of the Biola University campus and numerous places in between. So activities associated with daily community-building have in large measure been missing because of lack of proximity. Nurturing a mutually supportive community context for discipleship has required enormous effort and has in large measure been hindered.

The new building brings together two large portions of Talbot’s educational endeavor: the Biblical and Theological Studies Division (undergraduate) and 
the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics Department (graduate). The division of Biblical and Theological Studies provides 30 units of required study in Scripture for more than 4,200 undergraduate students. The Philosophy of Religion and Ethics Department prepares nearly 100 master’s students, many of whom will enter the best doctoral programs in North America and Europe. Community and disciple-building will be immeasurably enhanced in both academic areas as students, faculty and staff routinely interact with each other during the course of normal daily activities.

Classes in the remainder of Talbot’s academic areas will also be held in this building. A welcome by-product for Biola University will be the availability for other programs’ greatly needed classroom and office space throughout the campus that until now have been occupied for Talbot’s needs.

Ken: There are two big changes I see with the opening of this building. First, it is the start of building a more closely knit Talbot community. Currently, Talbot faculty are spread around seven different locations across 35 acres of our campus. This will reduce that number by three. Community will also be encouraged by the opening of Feinberg into the plaza. The isolation of Feinberg will be greatly reduced.

A second change is the strengthening of the undergraduate identity within Talbot. With the Biblical and Theological Studies faculty all together in one building, and with that building located at the edge of the “undergraduate” campus, I believe there will be a better understanding that Talbot serves the entire university, not just the graduate programs.

Sundoulos: Tell us about some of the highlights and features of the new building.

Ken: The building adds eight classrooms, five conference rooms, a large multipurpose meeting room and 31 offices for faculty and staff. We will be moving 29 faculty into the building in the coming months. The building is Biola’s first foray into “sustainable design.” We will be seeking official LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, as a validation of our concern for creation stewardship. Part of this commitment is the rooftop gardens, which will insulate the building, cool it and absorb rainwater. These are located off the second floor faculty offices, on the roof of two large classrooms. They will also be a great people-watching, conversation and small reception space.

The building has a couple of important features that speak to our spiritual values. Each of the two office floors contains a window that is covered in Scripture text. The material used to print the text on the glass shields light and heat, making the large windows very energy efficient. Two passages are represented on each window: a large-print single verse readable from outside the building, and a long Greek text of much smaller text, readable only from the inside. As the sun passes across the sky, the large text verse will cast a readable shadow into the building, literally bathing the building in Scripture. The second floor texts are Zechariah 4:6 and Romans 8 (the entire chapter). The third floor texts are John 15:5 and all of Ephesians.

Another very special feature is the prayer chapel, located on the plaza level, at the centerline of the building. It is built around the theme from Psalm 130:1 and from Jonah: “Out of the depths I cry to you.” The room will be open for individual or group prayer 24/7, and is designed to be a timeless, simple, elemental, space, feeling more like an ancient Christian catacomb refuge, not like a Baptist mountain camp chapel or medieval chapel. The intent is a set-apart space with few if any cultural icons, focused on simplicity.

Sundoulos: What one feature of the new building are you most excited about?

Dennis: I’m particularly enthusiastic about state-of-the-educational-art classrooms and seminar rooms. They will be spacious and comfortably appointed to provide inviting venues for learning, intellectual stretching and growth in Christ. Equipped with the latest technology to supplement and enhance instruction, they will offer a resource-rich environment for learning Bible, theology, biblical languages, spiritual formation, historical theology, missions and cross-cultural/multi-ethnic understanding, integration of biblical truth and other learning, philosophy of religion and ethics, and ministry and church education skills that include honing the craft of preaching.

Ken: I’m very excited about the Scripture windows and the prayer chapel, but also about the sunken plaza. I believe it will become a very exciting meeting place for a variety of campus events and just casual conversation. The waterfall will bring a soothing background to the space, as well as providing beauty and interest. Combined with the still pool, these two features portray many of the water metaphors used in Scripture.

Sundoulos: Is there some aspect of the new building that you think will surprise or delight people the most?

Dennis: There are several delightful features I would highlight. A lower level plaza (basement level but open) with a waterfall and serene reflecting pool, together with a rooftop garden above a portion of the first floor, will offer welcoming space for study, meditation, quiet conversation and community-building. A similarly tranquil space a few buildings away from Talbot’s Charles L. Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies, in the bustling heart of Manhattan, provided inspiration for this setting. A carefully designed prayer chapel will provide opportunities
for quiet meditation and reflection. Several oversize windows have been inscribed with Scripture verses in English, Hebrew and Greek so that entering sunlight will display God’s Word on interior spaces.

Sundoulos: How long has the process been for the creation of this building, from start (the concept) to finish (opening)?

Dennis: A number of Talbot faculty and administrative staff began conversations in 1993 centered around a vision for Talbot’s future. Talbot’s buildings then
and now consisted of Myers Hall, built in 1962, and Feinberg Hall/Calvary Chapel, constructed in 1975. They were designed for 250-300 graduate seminary students. As ideas coalesced of what Talbot could become, it was quickly evident that current facilities were regrettably inadequate for existing programs, much less for future plans. Projections of physical space that would be required evolved while enrollment continued to grow. We began with the idea of updating the original Talbot building, Myers Hall. This progressed to expansion, then adding a new wing, to replacing Myers Hall with another larger building, and finally to plans for two new buildings with space nearly 6-1/2 times the size of Myers. The newest building is the first of these two facilities.

Sundoulos: Were there any major setbacks during the construction process?

Ken: Planning for this project has been underway since 2004, and has gone through many variations. It started with a relatively simple addition to Myers Hall, but has grown as both graduate and undergraduate enrollment has increased. We settled on the three-building concept for Talbot in 2006. In 2010, we were nearing the expiration point of our building permit, and faced a $250,000 penalty if we had to start over. Through a time of prayer and fasting, God supplied wonderfully, and we were able to break ground in June of 2010. Unfortunately, we then encountered a problem with a county building official who was unfamiliar with the technique we were employing for shoring
the basement during construction. This ultimately led to long discussions and delays of three months. Our original plan was to finish construction in July.

Sundoulos: What do you hope the lasting legacy will be for this building?

Dennis: The Scripture verse on the plaque placed on the building reads, “Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). My greatest desire is that generations from now Talbot will be characterized by relentless fidelity to that Word, unswayed by theological winds that blow in opposition.

The building is not our focus. It is merely a tool to accomplish God’s mission for this school. My deep hope is for that always to be true of Talbot School of Theology.

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