Published: June 11, 2024

About half of first-year students take a course in the Hellems Arts and Sciences building, and by the time they graduate, almost 85% of all undergraduates take at least one course there. On this campus, Hellems has an academic leading role. Lately, however, it can seem a bit weathered in the spotlight.

That’s because the building was built in 1921, when the U.S. president was Warren G. Harding and 28-year-old Babe Ruth was a baseball superstar. A lot has changed since then, but the building itself remains largely vintage. 

dean office


The 95,000-square-foot facility is now undergoing health and safety improvements, accessibility improvements and energy-efficiency upgrades that will help it attain a LEED Gold rating. The renovation, which is guided in part by student input, also will make the space more functional, open and inclusive.

A survey of students’ views of Hellems found that students like and want to preserve the building’s historical character, the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre and the ALTEC language facilities.

However, students also cited several things that need to be improved, including study space, restrooms, light, furniture, classroom space, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and graduate-student space.

Hellems is part of the CU Boulder campus’s Norlin Quadrangle Historic District and was the first building designed by architect Charles Klauder in the now-iconic University of Colorado Tuscan Vernacular style.

Just as the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is a focal point of the U.S. capital, the Norlin Quad is a focal point of CU Boulder. Macky Auditorium and Hellems bookend its north and south, and to the east, Norlin Library, with its historic façade, frames the third side of the quad.

As planners note, though, all the “energy” emanating from the quadrangle terminates in the front of a building, Hellems, whose front entrance is not “accessible” as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Further, the front entrance leads students into a dimly lit stairwell and a hallway of doors, many closed, and observers say the entrance to this important building is neither grand nor inviting.

The renovation will “reclaim the dean’s office,” which you face upon entering Hellems. The office was initially occupied by the building’s namesake, Fred Burton Renney Hellems, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1899 to 1929.

What was once the dean’s office will be removed and turned into a common area. The renovation will give the space “back to the students,” removing a wall, filling the room with natural light, adding comfortable furniture and opening the ceiling to the second floor.

In the drawings shown here, you can see a bird’s-eye view of the proposed visual connection from the front of Hellems to the Rippon Theatre, a connection that students currently cannot see when entering the building. Also seen is an artist’s rendering of what the newly opened area will look like, encompassing sitting areas for students.