A New Use for Old Wood Bleachers

Johnson State College (JSC) sits on 350 hilltop acres in the heart of Vermont’s Green Mountains and overlooks a town that slightly exceeds its student enrollment size of 2,000. JSC challenges its students to “Change Your World” by encouraging them to be a catalyst for positive social and environmental change. But, how does the college itself demonstrate this? One needs to look no further than their latest renovation project to see JSC demonstrates it one board at a time.

With help from the Burlington, VT-based architectural firm Freeman French Freeman (FFF), Johnson State found an innovative re-use solution for material that was most likely destined for a landfill: wood bleachers. In this case, more than 1,200 linear board feet were recycled to become the interior face of a 7,000 sq.-ft. athletic facility’s lobby, trim for the cardio room’s entranceway, and encasement for the trophy display in a new function room.

The project for the Student Health And Physical Education (SHAPE) facility was completed in time for the 2010 winter basketball season and is the latest example of JSC’s commitment to sustainable design and making the campus accessible to the physically challenged.

A Green Mountain State Transformation

One of five Vermont state colleges, JSC has defined the physical transformation it wants to accomplish in its College Plan – 2010-2014: Vision and Goals. By the end of this planning period, it wants to be known for its “excellent community spaces, high quality teaching and learning facilities, and emphasis on sustainability in building development and maintenance.”

The feedback Coach Michael Osborne (’98) has heard about the SHAPE facility from prospective and current student-athletes, parents, and alumni has been “tremendous and consistently positive.”

“From the look of the new floor in Carter Gym,” said Osborne, “to the utilization of previously present materials in renovated spaces, to the professional and attractive feel of the administrative offices, the new SHAPE facility has been a hit.”

Renovation of the athletic facility included the latest in wood sports flooring system for the varsity Carter Gymnasium; code-compliant bleachers with media platforms; new climate-controlled cardio fitness room, weight training center, group exercise room, physiology laboratory, spinning studio with custom audio system, and function rooms; upgrades to bathrooms and lockers; installation of an elevator; and further addressing of ADA accessibility issues.

“Combining the aerobic equipment with the weights has brought the fitness community closer,” said student-athlete Chad Koenig. “Plus, when you walk into the SHAPE lobby, the feeling of pride is so real. This is the home of Badger Athletics!”

“It is wonderful to see how you can take a simple structure and turn it into a well-received and active masterpiece,” said Barbara Lougee, JSC athletic director. “I have been here nearly 20 years, and to see the changes that have been made to the SHAPE facility is just spectacular. The concept of making the building as green as can be and utilizing some of the old materials (bleachers, pads, flooring) was a smart yet creative way to keep tradition within the building. I feel the upgrade has helped in so many ways that it is hard to explain them all. The new space is so warm and welcoming that it has opened the doors to many into a new fitness era, as well as enhanced the opportunities for our student-athletes to better their training habits toward being competitive.”

Campus Master Planning “the Most Fun”
Campus master planning is one of six priorities JSC President Barbara Murphy outlined in “The State of the College” early last year. The others — enrollment, early student success, academics, development, and civic engagement — have quantifiable measures in place with the expectation that positive outcomes will be reached by the 2013-2014 academic year.

“I see reasons to be hopeful and confident,” Murphy said early last year, “as well as reasons to be concerned about the realities a recession has for us individually and for our College.” Despite that, she prefaced the list of priorities with a “sober optimism” for JSC’s future and said campus master planning is perhaps “the most fun on their plates.”

That excitement for the process did not go unnoticed by the FFF design team.

“We have really enjoyed working with Johnson State,” said Berglind Davis, senior interior designer at FFF, who was also on the design team for last year’s four-story renovation of the Stearns Student Center. “The staff and administration are very engaged in the decision-making process and the transformation of campus buildings.”

With a little over a year left to complete projects it’s bonded for, JSC is planning:
  • to upgrade its main entrance, or “the front door,” of the campus;
  • to make improvements to its science and art labs; and
  • an electrical transformer project.

“Anytime a part of JSC’s physical plant is reinvented, I feel as though the college is making progress,” said Ray Campanile (’99), ’09 coach. “Maybe it is because I am such a visual interpreter… When I see changes, they are real to me. Investing in where students learn and grow is essential for the health of the college and its inhabitants. The renovation of the SHAPE facility on the JSC campus reaffirms those lessons and relationships. It shows the commitment by the College that the competitive arena is a place where not only learning and growth take place but that it is an essential feature to the school and the core curriculum.”

FFF’s recent top-to-bottom renovation of the Stearns Student Center and the SHAPE facility, along with other projects in the works, ensures the college is not only having fun, but also continuing to improve its offerings to students and the community at large. The college provides most educational and cultural opportunities in the area, so any improvements to its campus are far-reaching.  

Tonya West is marketing coordinator for Freeman French Freeman, Vermont’s first architectural firm, which may be visited online at www.fffinc.com.