Facilities (Campus Spaces)

Putting It All Together

Parkland College Student Union building


“We wanted a front door, a place that says, ‘Here’s where you start,’” Jim Bustard, physical plant director of Parkland College in Illinois tells College Planning & Management. The need was clear: the campus of this community college in Champaign, originally designed by the post-war educational architect Ernest J. Kump & Associates, invoked a village made up of brick buildings dating from the 1960s and 1970s; an array of low-slung pavilions with pitched roofs. Counseling, Financial Aid, the Career Center and Assessment were all located in different pavilions on campus, which was maze-like, says Jerry Johnson, a design principal in Perkins + Will’s Chicago office.

The response: a $35-million, 120,000-square-foot Student Union building that has transformed the Parkland campus. The architect and the physical plant director describe a process to get there characterized by its balance, preparation and openness to change and that Johnson says was “carefully vetted with stakeholders.” Program and budget were the batons of that process and were carried through to its completion. The architects, characteristically so in Johnson’s view, “stepped back from problem solving at the beginning,” and started in a different way, by asking fundamental questions such as “What is the essence of what’s being accomplished?”

Such questions do not necessarily spark expected answers, but may instead “challenge some preconceived notions,” points out Johnson, who sees such a dynamic as a “healthy tension.” The solution met both needs at once: a multifunctional one-stop shop that is also Parkland’s front door.

Parkland College Student Union entrance


A Community Effort

Planners started gathering suggestions and ideas from a variety of sources, with Bustard pointing out that the planners went into the process with open ears. There were “numerous meetings” with students, staff and administrators, and among the comments and items on the “want list”: a desire for a welcoming, convenient center; for a flexible, adaptable space and for small group areas — a leading request from students.

Bustard recalls how another suggestion came almost as an aside: during the planning process, Parkland’s president, Tom Ramage, asked what turned out to be a key question: Could a third floor be added for administrative and other offices? Designers took a look, and it turned out that raising the roof in one section of the building was a cost-effective solution that added some 15,000 square feet of space for such functions — adding an exclamation point to the idea of a one-stop shop.

Parkland College Student Union


There was the challenge of placing a 21stcentury program into the form found across the “aesthetically consistent” campus, Johnson says. Thus, the pitched roof brick pavilion form was repeated, yet with key, dramatic differences: The motif was lifted up onto columns in order to open up space for a variety of functions on the ground floor; great curtain walls of glass, with louvers providing shade, were designed; and the structure was physically connected to other buildings with enclosed bridges.

Finally, that front door was provided. And how: The main entrance of the new building is a grand, wood-paneled atrium of impressive scale; its pitched ceiling about 40 feet high. It’s a dramatic entry to a building with many features, including:

  • A bridge walkway with soft seating and a glass box quiet lab study room, all overlooking the atrium.
  • Flowing space with open views inside and out.
  • A variety of colorful furniture, including pieces by Herman Miller, Steelcase and Knoll, Bustard says.
  • An expanded bookstore with a glass storefront on the ground floor concourse.
  • Well-appointed conference rooms and an assessment center with three large testing rooms.
  • A food service area that is a major expansion of old food service facilities, capabilities and variety on campus.

Flexibility and Flavor

Parkland College Student Union building


That food service feature — according to Bustard it was designed by Cini Little and is operated by Chartwells — flows, in a sense, through a moveable glass wall, onto an open, two-level space with floor-to-ceiling glass walls on two sides. Food service — the ground-floor concourse and some of the dining area — opens over a long counter with high stools, onto a space used for dining as well as campus events, receptions and conferences. It is oriented toward a stage fronted by a moveable glass wall. When the wall is open, there can be performances; when it’s closed, the backstage area becomes a conference room.

Getting the new building up and running is one just aspect of the work on campus: there is also the process of reassigning and repurposing the old spaces that have opened up across campus. Renovating accordingly is costing $500,000, according to Bustard. He explains that Parkland’s departments and offices have applied — essentially placed bids — for those spaces, with a committee appointed by the president evaluating the bids. It seems that decision makers kept an open mind about the possibilities there, with spaces slated to accommodate wholly new functions — the old bookstore space is becoming three Biology labs and a study room; Admissions and Records the new Public Safety office; and Human Resources is moving into the previous office of the president, according to Bustard. “So far, it’s worked out really well,” he says.

Parkland College Student Union


A Welcoming Success

The facility is also targeted for LEED Silver certification, creating a new standard of environmental stewardship for Parkland. Through the responsible use of natural materials to the energy efficient building systems, the design respects the educational village it serves and minimizes the Union’s environmental impact on the local and global community.

The new face of Parkland “is pretty much what we’d hoped it would be,” Bustard says, and is a busy, well-used place day and night, its light and form giving a “much more dramatic” look to the campus.

Something else is evident while walking through the building with Bustard, who has been in facilities for some 30 years and at Parkland for 15. The building is source of pride. As Bustard adds about the open dining area, in a comment that could apply more broadly to the entire facility, “This space, with its finishes, turned out even nicer than I envisioned.”


  • Reach out for ideas and input, whether it’s from administrators or students or others. You never know what benefits can result.
  • Invest the time. Make a concerted front-end effort, but don’t be afraid to change course if necessary: Change is not the thing; taking the right course is. As Parkland’s Bustard points out, such an effort can spark comments like “That’s beyond what we originally envisioned” as opposed to “That’s not what I wanted.”
  • Think through a repurposing/backfill plan. That is, what would be the best process for repurposing any old spaces opened up as a result of new construction? What kind of process can meet needs across departments, achieve strategic goals, and help foster and propel productive relationships on your campus?

This article originally appeared in the issue of .