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Acts of Adaptation

With funds for new campus construction tighter than ever, administrators are giving adaptive reuse of older buildings a fresh look.
University Business, Mar 2009

IT'S PRACTICALLY A GIVEN THAT AT SOME POINT IN A BUILDING'S life it will either become so outdated or need so much work to remain usable that its very existence will be questioned. But the possibility of tearing it down can present an emotional dilemma as well as go against sustainability principles. And, of course, building something new in its place comes with a big price tag.

APPA named adaptive reuse?which involves creating an entirely new strategy for a building’s use?as one of the top ten critical facilities issues in a report resulting from its 2007 Thought Leaders Series, and a new LEED rating system to be released this month by the U.S. Green Building Council is expected to give more points for adaptive reuse projects. Architectural firms find their higher ed clients are taking notice.

“Adaptive reuse has been interesting to universities because they often have very constrained campus plans that cause them to rethink these buildings,” says Betsy del Monte of The Beck Group, based in Dallas, adding that “the most sustainable building is the one that is already built and sitting there.”

Principal and director of sustainability at the firm, del Monte explains that higher ed institutions were mainly pursuing campus expansion in the past several years. She expects adaptive reuse to become a primary focus for IHEs in the next few years, because of financial challenges and the focus on resource efficiencies.

Loren Ahles, vice president and design principal at HGA Architects and Engineers’ Minneapolis office, agrees that campus leaders are giving adaptive reuse another look. The biggest positive? Administrators can reduce construction costs associated with square footage appreciably.

In addition, adaptive reuse can be the right thing to do. “It’s tough to throw away buildings. It doesn’t make much sense in this day and age, and so [adaptive reuse] is a green approach to renovating a campus.”

Here’s how three institutions helped to give certain structures second lives.

Sea Urchins, a private summer residence, circa 1886, was bequeathed to College of the Atlantic (Maine) in the mid-’70s by its owner under a life-tenancy agreement. But the wrecking ball was heading its way in 2004, after the university community voted to tear it down and built new environmentally sustainable housing in its place.

Administrators thought it would be difficult to restructure the building due to its eccentric design, including two additions from the early 1900s and related accessibility issues, with many of the room entrances having steps. Designed for summer use, the building wasn’t insulated. And its stucco exterior, easily capable of soaking up moisture, had to meet modern building codes.

“It really just sat there as our campus landmark, but [it was] of very little use to us,” says Millard Dority, director of campus planning, buildings, and public safety. The owner lived in the building during the summer months, although the college had used the servants’ quarters, one of the additions, as residences during the year. Another addition served as a student lounge in the mid-to-late-’90s.

“It was a very, very difficult decision ? but we felt there was no way we could make it ADA compliant because the building was convoluted,” explains Dority.

When COA administrators were scheduled to present plans for the future Kathryn W. Davis Student Residence Village to the Bar Harbor Planning Board, with one of the three duplexes to be placed on the site of the cottage, Dority gave the floor plan a final look. That’s when he determined a way to salvage it. By removing and relocating the wing that had served as the temporary student lounge, the number of level changes could be reduced, making the building more accessible.

After discussions with the college’s president and the associate dean of student life, a plan B for the cottage came into fruition: use it as a campus center with a caf? and lounge, plus offices for faculty and staff. In July 2007, the board of trustees voted to proceed with the adaptation of the cottage and the construction of the new student housing, which was built first.

The project team was able to keep the original 1886 design of the summer cottage intact. The yearlong project began in September 2007 with the installation of a heating system that runs on wood pellets and the addition of spray-foam insulation.

Today, Deering Common, a 25,000-square-foot campus center, houses the departments of counseling and health services and student life personnel, along with spaces for student interests, including music halls and a meditation room.

“It’s great that we saved a building,” says Dority, who explains that the decision enabled fellow administrators to cancel plans for a new $8.1 million campus center. Given the current state of the U.S. economy, Dority says, “We probably would have never built the campus center, so the students would be without an area they could call their own.”

The decision by Eastern Kentucky University administrators to convert a former bowling alley and a pool hall housed in the basement level of its student union, the Powell Building, into a Technology Commons center originated with the need for a centralized facility for students and evolved into a team-based learning environment for student technology needs. The bowling alley and pool hall had fallen victim to a decline in student interest over time and had been sitting vacant for almost three years until being closed in 2002.

In 2004, a group of university officials was invited to visit a computer learning center at Virginia Tech. When they reported back, a discussion began about a location for student-centered technology services at EKU.

A one-stop technology shop was needed. “We didn’t have a facility like this on campus with these services,” explains Jean Marlow, director of Instructional Technology, who was a part of the group that traveled to the Blacksburg, Va., campus. “We looked at the bowling alley as our first choice because of the central location on campus, and it also was the space we needed.”

Student leaders got involved in the process by appointing an oversight committee to work with administrators on determining what features would be needed. A student technology fee, set at $50 per semester prior to this project, covered its cost. Allocated money from three budget cycles (2004 through 2007) was committed to the project.

“I think it’s absolutely essential that any project like this, especially funded by students, be student centered and student focused,” says Marlow. “We were very careful to get buy-in and involvement of other students on campus.”

So the final design incorporated results from student surveys, focus groups, and campuswide forums. “Students were looking for a collaborative working environment where they could sit down with their colleagues, with their peers, spread out and work on projects,” says Marlow. Also on student wish lists: a lounge area, wireless access in all areas, meeting space, and a printing center.

Costing an estimated $1 million, renovations began in 2005 with the removal of sports equipment and were wrapped up in December 2007. Lexington-based Adams-Frazier-Anderson was contracted for the project.

Suitable lighting fixtures were needed, so the project team had them installed. Another issue involved water leakages, due to the building’s age and condition, and modifications were made in the mechanical rooms. A few items of bowling memorabilia were kept for a tribute space, which will be added at some point soon.

Opened in January 2008, the 10,280-square-foot Technology Commons offers students an emerging technology studio that houses 40 classrooms arranged with 10 worktables and videoconferencing equipment, a wireless lounge, a general purpose computer facility, a student conference room, and the Paper Jam, a printing business and equipment rental center.

In addition to its central location on campus, the student center had other pluses. “By using that space, we also gained options for future expansion for other student affairs groups,” says Marlow, “which was very nice as well.”

In 2005 Stevenson University (Md.) purchased a training facility once used by two National Football League teams and had it converted into the new Caves Sports and Wellness Center. The two-floor building, with approximately 40,000 square feet, sits near the entrance to the university’s Owings Mills Campus, just down the hill from student housing.

“We were building student dorms and apartments there [and] we purchased the property right adjacent to it,” explains Tim Campbell, executive vice president for financial affairs and CFO at the university. Officials sent a letter of inquiry to the city about the property. “This being so close to our properties, we thought it would be a good fit,” he adds.

The facility was built for the Baltimore Colts in the late 1970s and used until the team moved to Indianapolis in 1984. In 1996, the Baltimore Ravens were established and the building was used again until the team moved to a new facility. The original building contained training facilities, locker rooms, an outdoor bubble that housed a weightlifting area, and a fitness center.

After the $4.71 million transaction, the university had all mechanical systems replaced. Completed in July 2006, the building opened the following month. The final cost of the renovation?including equipment, furniture, landscaping, and parking improvements?totaled an additional $4.54 million. Lockers from the facility’s NFL days were left as a reminder of the building’s former life and are still in use.

The center now houses both athletics and a full-service health and wellness group, featuring a hydrotherapy pool and a racquetball court. With the playing fields just outside, visitors can observe the action in the “skybox” area inside the building that overlooks the fields. Athletic teams use the covered sports bubble for practices. On the upper floor, the Wellness Center offers routine first aid services and supplies and houses professional counseling offices. The top level also contains eight classrooms.

Prior to the purchase, only five classrooms were at the Owings Mills Campus, and the institution needed additional space for academics and student support services, according to John Jensen, assistant vice president for facilities and campus services. With more than 1,110 students residing on the campus, a wellness center would get a lot of use at the location?and it has.

As the Stevenson, College of the Atlantic, and Eastern Kentucky communities know, something old can be new again.

Reusing salvaged materials can let certain resources live on in new construction projects and deliver feel-good returns.

For the environmental factor, Barry LePatner, founder of the New York City law firm LePatner & Associates LLP, explains that reusing salvaged materials reduces the need for landfill space and accompanying environmental impacts such as water and air quality. Second, this practice also cuts down on the need for having to extract and produce new construction materials such as mining and transportation.

Another argument may be more aesthetic. Whether they are old brick, wood beams, or floor planks, salvaged materials may have appeal for renovation projects that are preserving or replicating an older campus building’s historical character.

“Those materials worth salvaging are likely to be of a higher quality than a comparable material produced today,” says LePatner, also an author and advisor on business and legal issues affecting real estate, design, and construction, “or even impossible to duplicate today because of a lost era of craftsmanship.”

What about cost? LePatner says some salvaged materials could cost more depending on how expensive it would be to recover them or whether they need to be refurbished. On the other hand, some materials (such as timber beams and wide-plank flooring) could cost less depending on their supply and demand.

Administrators would need to weigh the value of the cost versus benefits of quality and durability that can be found in these materials.

Here are examples of some institutions putting the practice of salvaged materials into place:

? Vanderbilt University (Tenn.): When the Hill Center, an old dining facility, was torn down during summer 2006 to build The Commons Center, a student life facility, nearly 95 percent of the materials were salvaged, recycled, or sold. Sandstone pavers from the former dining facility were placed in the patios of the Commons Center, opened in August 2007. Approximately 150 tons of limestone excavated from the construction site went into creating The Star Chamber, a 12-foot landscape sculpture at Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory, in October 2006.

? Albright College (Pa): A total of 250 tons of steel are being recycled from the former Army Reserve Center in Reading, which was deeded to the college in summer 2008 and then demolished that November. Approximately 4,000 tons of concrete and brick are being pulverized into a mixture that will be used as backfill for a new parking lot on the site, adjacent to the college’s Gene L. Shirk Stadium. There are also plans for putting in lines for six full-sized basketball courts.

? St. Olaf College (Minn.): Approximately 140 trees harvested from the construction site for the 200,000 square-foot Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, opened in October 2008, were transformed into benches and tables by the college’s cabinetmaker Gregg Menning to furnish the hall. Benches can be found in the building's corridors, tables in meeting rooms. Remaining wood has been stockpiled for future use. Also, several hundred new trees have since been planted around campus.

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