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Giving new life to old campus space

Colleges find efficiencies—and a dose of nostalgia—in repurposing rather than rebuilding facilities
University Business, January 2014
  • 41 Wyllys Avenue, now an academic building at Wesleyan University, was built in the 1920s and had 17 squash courts. (Photo: Olivia Drake)
  • 41 Wyllys Avenue houses two academic departments and the career center. (Photo: Olivia Drake)
  • Lafayette College's Grossman House for Global Perspectives is a themed-residence hall converted from a fraternity house built in 1915.
  • The Grossman House for Global Perspectives is students studying global learning or who have lived abroad.
  • Birmingham-Southern College turned a pool built in the 1930s into its Southern Environmental Center. (Photo: Jamie Miller)
  • The Southern Environmental Center gets 20,000 visitors a year, 12,000 of whom are schoolchildren. (Photo: Jamie Miller)
  • SUNY Binghamton is converting a community of residence halls into academic buildings and student services offices.
  • The former great room of SUNY Binghampton's Digman Hall is now a state-of-the-art classroom.
  • Florida State University transformed its Johnston Building from two early 20th century dining halls into a modern academic complex.
  • The Johnston Building houses several academic departments, including interior design, human sciences and art history.
  • The Packard Athletic Center at Baldwin-Wallace University was a practice facility built by pro football's Cleveland Browns in 1972.
  • The Packard Athletic Center was used a dormitory until it was repurposed in 2013.
  • Goshen College turned at student union and gym built in 1950 into its Center for International and Intercultural Education.
  • The Center for International and Intercultural Education is the headquarters for Goshen’s study-abroad program.

Repurposing an old campus building may not have the wow factor that comes with creating a new facility from scratch. But colleges and universities driven by financial, environmental and sentimental forces sometimes find rejuvenating the buildings they already have is a more practical solution.

Repurposing projects can sometimes be done more quickly or may be the only choices for urban campuses with space constraints. In repurposing, institutions also can maintain historic campus character cherished by alumni.

“You can’t quantify the value in a historic structure,” says Alan Rubacha, director of the physical plant at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. “We always choose to reuse or recycle or adopt as opposed to building new, even though building new might have been cheaper and it would’ve been easier.”

Florida State University, with little room to expand outward in downtown Tallahassee, built a state-of-the art building around two historic dining halls to create a new academic complex in the center of campus.

“We had an opportunity to develop the building and max it out without crushing the historic significance of it,” says Lawrence R. Rubin, director of design and construction in Florida State’s facilities department. “Acreage-wise, we’re really tight. We’re an urban campus and we don’t have blank, undeveloped land.”

SUNY Binghamton is turning a cluster of dorms into academic buildings. It will take only a few years, compared to the 10 years it could have taken to build a new complex, says James VanVoorst, vice president for administration. “We were able to make use of buildings that had outlived the functionality of what they were designed for, and with a little TLC, we’re bringing them back.”

At Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, converting an old fraternity house into an internationally-themed residence hall was a way to teach students about environmental sustainability, says Mary Wilford-Hunt, Lafayette’s director of facilities planning and construction.

“Hopefully, the building now reaches out to occupants in a way that encourages them to conduct their lives more sustainably: to recycle, to refill water bottles, to understand energy use,” she says. “We tried wherever possible to make it a learning environment.”

And while Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama turned an old pool into the Southern Environmental Center, keeping the original tiles in what was the pool’s shallow end provides a familiar touch for graduates.

“Alums who don’t recognize much of the campus anymore come down the stairs and recognize the tiles from the swimming pool and they become emotional—it’s an anchor,” says Roald Hazelhoff, the center’s director. Key to repurposing any building is to solve challenges related to space planning, technology upgrades, and keeping the project (and finished building) green. Here’s how these and other campuses worked out those aspects of planning while repurposing everything from a Harry Potter-style dining hall, to outdated squash courts, to a former pro football practice facility, into modern buildings with fresh uses.

41 Wyllys Avenue, Wesleyan University

Middletown, Conn.

Now: Houses two academic departments and the career center. Includes five classrooms, three conference rooms, and 31 offices. Located on Wesleyan’s College Row. Reopened 2012.

Then: Facility with 17 squash courts built in the late 1920s/early 1930s.

Cost: $7.13 million

Size: 23,000 square feet (original was 13,000 square feet)

Design: Newman Architects, New Haven, Conn.

Space: The building was split into quarters, with classrooms, the career center, the art history department, and the College of Letters each getting one-fourth of the space.

Technology: Since squash courts have high ceilings, there was lots of room for wiring to be hidden. The HVAC system uses smaller pipes than traditional systems, leaving more room for technology infrastructure. The building has full Wi-Fi; classrooms and conference rooms have complete AV systems, including high-definition projectors.

Green: The building, which achieved LEED Platinum designation, uses 35 percent less energy than does a standard building of its size. Lead paint was stripped from wood removed from the squash courts so the wood could be sent off for reuse. That meant only 30 barrels of lead—rather than 50 dumpsters of lead-contaminated wood—had to be disposed of. The building also has chilled-beam heating and cooling, which saves energy by using water instead of air. It also has a 2,200-square-foot green roof that absorbs rainwater, reducing flow to city storm sewers. Other parts of the roof drain onto the green roof.

Grossman House for Global Perspectives, Lafayette College

Easton, Pa.

Now: Themed-residence hall with suites for 25 students studying global learning or who have lived abroad. Building hosts foreign film festivals and culinary events, among other activities. Rededicated in April 2013.

Then: Fraternity house built in 1915

Cost: $4 million

Size: 10,000 square feet

Design: Apicella Bunton, New Haven, Conn.

Space: The interior layout was completely reconfigured. Originally there was a hallway with rooms on both sides and fire escapes at either end. The building now has a central staircase with two suites per floor, and fire escapes have been removed. Because the building is located at a campus gateway, a second entranceway with a terrace was created in what had been the building’s back service entrance. The building is Lafayette’s’ only example of Dutch Colonial Revival architecture, so its facade was kept intact, including a plaster owl on the roof that had been important to former residents.

Technology: Wi-Fi has been installed throughout and it is the first residence hall that has been renovated but does not include phone jacks in the rooms. At the entrance, a flatscreen display shows energy, gas, steam, and water use, and students can see graphs of that usage over time.

Green: Rainwater collected from the roof by a graywater system flushes toilets. Motion detectors control lighting, and all bathroom and kitchen fixtures are low-flow. A water-bottle-filling station tells users how many plastic water bottles have been eliminated through its use. Some of the existing bedroom furniture was reused. Steel, aluminum, concrete and wood removed during renovation was recycled, and some light fixtures and fire alarms removed were reinstalled in other campus buildings. There is an indoor bicycle storage facility and preferential parking for carpoolers. LEED Gold status was achieved.

Southern Environmental Center, Birmingham-Southern College

Birmingham, Ala.

Now: Three-story Southern Environmental Center that takes up part of a building still used as a sports facility, sharing space with basketball, dance and athletic administrative offices. Center serves as a museum and environmental program headquarters, with 20,000 visitors a year (12,000 of those are schoolchildren). Opened in 1998 after having operated in basement of college library since 1993.

Then: 25-meter swimming pool and locker room, built in 1930s and drained for good in the early 1980s.

Cost: Less than $800,000

Size: 5,600 square feet

Design: Gresham Smith & Partners, Birmingham, Ala.

Space: New floor creates usable space above and below. The main floor has a model house that teaches visitors about energy use, water conservation and solid waste. Inside the house there is a slide—resembling a toilet—that visitors can ride down into the pool, where there is auditorium space. The slide was included to remind visitors that the toilet is the biggest water-user in a home. (Visitors can also take stairs down to the second floor). The pool tiles remain in what was the shallow end. There are offices on the third-floor balcony.

Technology: The building has Wi-Fi, but staff meetings are held in spaces where overhead projectors are not used. This helps staff stay focused on the meeting, rather than on the technology. Sculptures of crows that hang from the ceiling above the meeting space were made from tires fished out of a local creek.

Green: Although built prior to LEED certification standards, the project team had a goal of using as much recycled material as possible. The floor that’s now at surface-level of the old pool was built from recycled cars. The steel was melted down from 42 cars abandoned in the Birmingham area. Eighty percent of light is natural daylight, thanks to newly-installed, large windows. Numerous plants in the building act as air filters. Insulation is made from recycled newspaper and a slide in the building is made from orange juice and milk containers. A “wire man” sculpture in the building was made by students who salvaged wire from a separate campus construction site. If operations ever had to be moved, most elements of the building can be taken out and reused, including the pool, which remains.

Dickinson Community, SUNY Binghamton

Binghamton, N.Y.

Now: Academic buildings (in progress), also containing an alumni center and offices for the registrar, recruitment, financial aid and information technology. Anticipated project completion in or before 2015.

Then: Complex of six residence halls and a dining hall built in the 1950s and ’60s

Cost: $42 million

Size: Seven buildings totalling 265,000 square feet

Design: Bearch Compeau Knudson (Binghamton, N.Y.)., and SUNY Binghamton staff architects

Space: The project is part of a plan to concentrate academic and students’ services buildings in center of campus (known as “The Brain”) and move residence halls outside the area. The great rooms of the former Rafuse and Digman residence halls have been repurposed as 40-seat classrooms. Faculty office space and two more classrooms are being built in the former Whitney residence hall.

Offices for student accounts, the registrar, financial aid, and admissions recruiting will be located together in the former Dickinson Dining Hall. The high ceilings of that room will allow construction of a rotunda, with room for 120 people, where prospective students can be gathered for campus tours. The geography department and information technology headquarters will be relocated to the former Johnson residence hall and a new alumni affairs office will be built in the former O’Connor building.

Spaces vacated by the above functions are in the core of campus and will be replaced by state-of-the-art classrooms and a global learning center focused on international students and study abroad programs.

Technology: The “great room” classrooms have flexible seating that can be arranged in different configurations. They also have command centers where faculty can connect laptops and give a lecture with digital presentations. Wireless had been installed in some buildings while they were still serving as residence halls.

Green: The buildings are being retrofited with more efficient heating systems to work with the campus’ central energy-management system, which was installed by Siemens. One building is getting a more energy-efficient elevator, and energy-efficient windows are being added throughout the complex. Binghamton will seek LEED Silver certification.

Johnston Building, Florida State University

Tallahassee, Fla.

Now: A modern, interconnected academic building, completed in 2011.

Then: Two separate dining hall buildings—a west wing built in 1913 and the east wing, circa 1939, that have also housed a bakery, a creamery, a cannery and dorms over the years.

Cost: $56 million

Size: 143,000 square feet (original building was 65,000 square feet)

Design: Gould Evans (Tampa), Gilchrist Ross Crowe (Tallahassee)

Space: The older west wing was repurposed along with the building connecting to the east wing. The east wing, which had been previously renovated, had been known as the Harry Potter dining hall because of the high, vaulted ceilings and trusses that had been hidden by past renovation but uncovered during the most recent work. The two largest dining halls were converted into lecture halls, and the complex now houses several academic departments, including interior design, human sciences and art history. The academic affairs and counseling offices also have been moved into the building. The brick used on the exteriors of the additions match brick from the preserved historic sections.

Technology: Buildings are “covered” with wireless. The large new lecture halls each have two huge screens that lecturers can control from a central work station.

Green: Lighting was installed based on a survey of need rather than contracting standards. To make room for better insulation, the historic paneling was removed and recreated with the same look. New, energy-efficient windows also mimic historic windows. Original clay tiles were reused on the roof. The building, which achieved LEED Gold certification, is connected to the campus’ chilled-water and steam loop system.

Packard Athletic Center, Baldwin-Wallace University

Berea, Ohio

Now: Athletic program offices, conference space, and a fitness center, open since August 2013. Located adjacent to the football stadium.

Then: Former Cleveland Browns practice facility, built in 1972 and considered state-of-the-art at the time. Contained player’s lounge, locker room, exercise facility, conference rooms, and a 66-seat auditorium. Converted to a dormitory in late 1980s.

Cost: $3 million

Size: 8,200 square feet

Design: Doty & Miller Architects, Bedford, Ohio

Space: On the second floor, where the Cleveland Browns once had offices and a projection room, and later where housing units were, there are now offices for football and lacrosse coaches. Because the offices are newly built, the men’s and women’s lacrosse offices are the same size. Locker room space was created on the first floor for men’s and women’s soccer, lacrosse, track and field, and cross country. This is in the same space where the Browns once had lockers. The addition of a weight room and other fitness equipment takes pressure off the university’s other fitness center. A two-story lobby—and an education wing with three classrooms and conference facility with space for 175 students—also was added.

Technology: The building is connected to the rest of campus by fiber optics, and it has internal Wi-Fi. Larger spaces in the building are networked internally and large, flatscreen monitors have been installed in coaches’ offices, the player lounge and teaching areas. The building also is wired for music and sound.

Green: The goal was to save as much of the existing building as possible so as not to have to spend energy on new construction. Walls and finishes were maintained where possible, and new spaces were fit into the old floorplan. Some wood doors, metal frames, studs, and ceramic tile walls were removed but reused in the project. Energy-efficient insulation has been added and the new white roof saves on cooling costs by reflecting sunlight. An energy management control system was installed to schedule heating and cooling. Natural and nontoxic building materials will prevent emissions of volatile organic compounds, reducing air pollution in the building.

Center for International and Intercultural Education, Goshen College

Goshen, Ind.

Now: Half of old gym repurposed as a headquarters for school’s study-abroad program. Re-opened in 2012.

Then: Student union building built around 1950 with small gym, bookstore, snack shop and post office.

Cost: Approximately $1.5 million

Size: 5,000 square-foot space became 10,000 square feet with addition of second floor.

Design: The Collaborative, Inc.,Toledo, Ohio

Space: Work took place in half of old gym. The wood floor was removed and new foundations were put in so a new second floor could be built. The first floor is headquarters for Center for International and Intercultural Education. Second floor houses a studio for art classes. Down center of gym is now a large, high-ceiling hallway that will become an atrium when work is completed on the other half of the building, where Goshen plans to build a communications center that will house academic media classes, campus newspapers, and radio and TV stations. Externally, building looks much as it did 60 years ago.

Technology: A new data closet was built and a high level of bandwidth was installed in anticipation of building communications center that will require high-speed data connections.

Green: Eliminated 22 of the original building’s 42 entrances to reduce heat loss in winter. A geothermal heat pump system, which was purchased from a local company, now services this and nearby buildings. The building is highly automated to control climate, lighting and air quality. High-efficiency windows and low VOC paints and carpets were used. LEED certification is being sought.