Tackling Change on Campus

There is a multitude of elements to consider when a change or addition is deemed necessary for the continued growth of a college or university. While change can be challenging, it also brings with it an opportunity for advancement and an air of excitement. With many alternatives for expansion — whether it’s a new building, addition, renovation, or combination — it’s best to examine all options on case-by-case basis. While the examination and evaluation process may be a constant, each college campus has unique characteristics that will factor into its decision-making process. We’ll take a look at what steps should be taken by administrators considering or planning for changes on campus, as well as two case studies that arrived at very different outcomes to meet their specific needs.

The Process
The first step is to engage a design firm to conduct a facility assessment.

The facility assessment will look at the major factors associated with the “personality” of an existing building or buildings that may be considered viable options for the expansion process. One of the major components is the location of the facility. Is the building located correctly on campus, given its programmatic use? Should it be near the heart of the campus, or closer to the community on the periphery? Next, the team will want to understand the value of the existing facility. Is it listed on the historic register? What are its redeeming qualities or the significance of the building to the campus? Interviews with students, faculty, and staff may be conducted to help determine the sentimental value of an existing building. At the same time, the team will investigate the existing systems and building materials including the structural systems (load-bearing masonry, which may be harder to adapt), building volume (floor-to-floor heights), energy efficiencies (natural ventilation, thermal mass), historic elements, and other physical characteristics that will impact the decision-making process.

The second step is to assess the program.

The team will review what will be needed to meet the functional or service requirements for the program work inside the building. This may include square-footage needs, acoustic considerations, access to loading or delivery zones, volumetric needs, and many others.

The third step involves conducting a “fit study.”

Once the programmatic needs have been reviewed, the team will conduct a fit study, or an examination of how the required elements will or will not “fit” in or around the existing building. This will also include an evaluation of the site so that possible addition locations can be identified. Square footage, volume, use of existing building materials, and specific program needs will be considered during the evaluation process. A dramatic example of a fit evaluation would be if the program required the addition of a new, high-tech, “smart” lecture classroom. The volume of the space would be evaluated, so tiered seating could be added. The existing structural system would be evaluated to verify that the added weight of the tiered seating could be accommodated. The added AV would require the evaluation of the electrical system, and the acoustics of the room should be considered. These considerations would be much less for a general classroom space. 

The fourth and final step is to collaborate and come to a consensus.

The team will need to work closely with the university or college to review and solidify the programming needs for the building. Additionally, the team will propose solutions, taking into consideration the physical and financial impacts of a renovation, building addition, or building removal.

Outside of the programming requirements and costs associated with the project, there are several other important considerations at this stage. If an adaptive reuse or renovation is deemed appropriate, which building elements will be incorporated into the final build-out, and how? If an addition is required, how will the existing building and the new building connect, and should the addition complement the existing or cover it up? If the building will be removed, how will the community react? What will be the environmental impact? Can materials be recycled and/or re-used in some capacity? After all options have been thoroughly investigated, the team, along with the university or college, will come to a consensus that meets the highest and best use for the growing needs of the school.

Case Studies
Colorado State University, University Center for the Arts

Location: Fort Collins, CO

Situation: Colorado State University (CSU) wanted a new home for their Music, Theatre, Dance, and Visual Art departments. The goal was a unified building where students and professors, visual artists, and performers could collaborate, learn, and promote the arts. 

The project began with a program plan study and in-depth analysis of the historic Old Fort Collins high school building. The building was located along the eastern edge of the main campus, and was always considered a significant historic structure in Fort Collins. After the local school district left the building and replaced the high school on a different site, the Old Fort Collins high school building became a leading contender for the CSU University Center for the Arts. The University purchased the 1924 historic building, and the process began.

The high school had two gymnasiums, which provided some of the large volume spaces needed for several of the theatre components. Additionally, the solid masonry walls and high floor-to-floor heights allowed for the acoustic treatments necessary to the program. Three additions were deemed necessary to accommodate the program, but the historic significance of the structure and its proximity to campus made reusing the building the best choice for CSU.

The project was completed in three phases.

Phase I: Edna Rizley Griffin Concert Hall addition
A 37,000-sq.-ft., 567-seat concert hall was added to the existing building, providing a performance space for the Music Department. The design honors the historical character of the existing building.

Phase II: The Bohemian Complex
A retrofit of the former Old Fort Collins high school gymnasium includes the 318-seat University Theatre, 100-seat Studio Theatre, 2,400-sq.-ft. William Runyon Music Hall, and another 4,500 sq. ft. of production shops, dressing room, green room, audiovisual equipment rooms, and other supporting spaces.

Phase III: Reuse of the 1924 historic structure and restoration of the historic facade
The final phase completes the University Center for the Arts project and includes two additions, along with the renovation and adaptive reuse of the old Fort Collins high school building. Included in the renovation was a recital hall located in the historic Auditorium; a convertible dance studio theatre located in the historic gymnasium; the department of Music, Theatre and Dance’s academic spaces; practice rooms and studios; teaching labs; and faculty offices.

An Instrumental Music Hall addition, designed to accommodate large ensemble practices and performances, was one of the two additions added in Phase III. The second addition houses two dance studio spaces, providing the Dance Department the teaching classrooms they need for accreditation. In addition to music, theatre, and dance spaces, Phase III created two permanent, humidified, museum spaces for CSU: The Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising and the University Museum for the Visual Arts Department.

The adaptive reuse of the former high school, along with the building additions, produced a 330,000-sq.-ft. facility that reflects the existing building’s historic nature while achieving acoustical excellence in a state-of-the-art academic and performing arts center for music, theater, dance, and visual arts. A variety of techniques were incorporated throughout the facility to preserve and integrate the historic elements and promote sustainability, including the reuse of the historic 1924 building shell, reuse of the existing hardwood flooring from the original gymnasium, linoleum flooring, and more than 10,000 lbs. of recycled building materials such as steel, copper, and aluminum. After a ten-year process, a community icon was transformed into a home for cultural excellence by a successful marriage of old and new.

Project: Western State College Student Center

Location: Gunnison, CO

Situation: The College was in need of a student center for the 21st century. The goal was to create a dynamic student center that would accommodate the growing student population and current programming needs of the students and faculty at Western State College (WSC).

Process: The design team evaluated the existing 1950s student union with the specific goal of expanding the existing dining and food services for the College. With the majority of the campus buildings oriented on a grid and constructed in a traditional masonry or stucco language, the existing student union — with its white-painted masonry and its 45-degree off-grid orientation — did not blend. Western State College is remotely located and its amenities play an important role in student life on the campus. Located centrally on campus, the building was in the ideal place for a student center, but it did not evoke pride for the students or the College. Additionally, the low ceilings, masonry load-bearing walls, and lack of natural daylight made the building difficult to remodel. Although a renovation/remodel was deemed “possible” by the design team, the College determined that the existing building should be replaced with a new, high-performance facility that would create excitement and accommodate the programming requirements for the College.

Solution: A new, energy-efficient building is currently being built to replace the existing student union. Energy efficiency and sustainable design principles were the basis for the design, construction, and operation of the new student center because WSC is committed to reducing the impact of its facilities on the environment. Specific energy efficiencies and environmental design objectives were identified to help guide the building design in order to achieve the project’s overall goal of LEED Gold certification. The 70,000-sq.-ft. student union is expected to be completed in January 2010.

Jennifer Cordes, AIA, LEED-AP, is a principal for Denver-based SLATERPAULL Architects (www.slaterpaull.com).