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Sense of Place

Armstrong Atlantic State University gets creative when funds fall through

University Business, July 2013
The green roof of Armstrong Atlantic State University's Learning Commons absorbs rainfall and reduces stormwater runoff.

When state funds for a library expansion fell through, officials at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., got creative by repurposing an existing facility located just a few steps away.

Function: The Learning Commons is a satellite library situated on the quad and featuring spaces for students to use technology and collaborate.

Challenge: Armstrong’s original library, built to serve about 2,400 students, was slated for a $14.3 million expansion, with state funds approved in 2009. Not long after, $9 million of that was cut. But with about 7,500 students, the university could not make due with the existing library, says David Carson, vice president for business and finance.

The remaining $5 million “wasn’t going to give us an addition that would have been meaningful and aesthetically good.” Officials examined needs and realized space for books and periodicals was sufficient. What was needed: “Space for students to utilize technology and practice presentations and work in groups,” he says.

Solution: Twenty yards from the library was the original student union building, which housed IT services. Why not move that office to the fringe of campus and convert the structure in this high-impact area into a high-tech commons?

In March 2011, the Data Center/Learning Commons project got off the ground, and by May 2012 the Data Center phase was complete and construction of the Learning Commons began. A structurally sound building, it just needed to be gutted.

Now a wide open space designed by librarians and faculty, it has “a very modern industrial feel,” he says. Students can conduct online searches, practice presentations, and complete group projects in the facility.

“It’s very important for them to have these [collaboration] skills—they work in groups and will have to work in groups in the workplace,” Carson notes.

Both projects were completed with just the $5 million provided by the state plus $250,000 of university funds for sustainability features. “We were very frugal,” says Carson.

LEED Gold certification will be pursued for the building, which has a 500-square-foot green roof that can be viewed from a Student Union building balcony. Other green roofs may follow across campus, Caron says.

As for the student experience inside the Learning Commons, Carson says there are three exits and “very late hours, so students can come and go.”

Completed: April 2013

Project team: Cogdell & Mendrala Architects (Savannah); James Greensroofs, (Colbert, Ga.)