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Inside Look: Alumni Houses

Multifunction spaces cater to and celebrate an institution’s graduates
University Business, March 2016
  • Students at Westminster College in Salt Lake City can attend networking events, hold meetings or enjoy some complimentary coffee at the Kim T. Adamson Alumni House, completed in 2008 for $1.4 million. Alumni can rent space for events, and visitors get a sense of history from campus memorabilia displayed throughout the house that features a mural of Westminster’s circa-1906 flagship building. Posters in the reception area celebrate alumni successes. Architect: VCBO Architecture (Salt Lake City)
  • Westminster’s alumni house has been the setting for many milestone moments, including this celebration dinner for the house’s namesake, Kim T. Andamson (‘79). The building also hosts Westminster’s annual phone-a-thon fundraiser, during which student volunteers can say they’re calling from a physical space on campus that’s dedicated to alumni.
  • The welcoming entrance: Meant to serve as a second home to University of the Pacific alumni, the Alex and Jeri Vereschagin Alumni House’s floor-to-ceiling windows make its foyer open and inviting. The 750-square-foot space, used for pre-event activities and receptions, offers visitors a spot to sit and relax while browsing alumni award displays. And personal devices can be connected to the building’s sound system. With 9,500 square feet, the $5.5 million building opened in August 2011. Alumni regularly dona
  • University the Pacific’s alumni house has four meeting rooms and can accommodate a reception for up to 150 guests. The main boardroom has a drop-down projection screen and allows for video conferencing. The sound system can play audio via Direct TV or from one’s device.
  • The main boardroom at the University of the Pacific also has French doors that spill out to a large patio area for outdoor dining. The facility earned LEED Gold certification for its sustainably sourced wood products, recycled roofing, natural lighting and other green design practices.
  • Tech infusion: The updates to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Samuel F. Heffner ’56 Alumni House, built in 1989 for $3.1 million, include a video wall that lets organizers customize content for every event. Attendees of a dinner focused on academics may see student success stories on the displays, while images of hockey greats can be shown at athletics-related events. Videoconferencing is another heavily used tech addition in the facility that was conceived, designed, constructed and financed by alumni.
  • The 2,444-square-foot Great Room of Rensselaer’s Heffner Alumni House, suitable for stand-up receptions for up to 200 people, has two fireplaces and a cathedral ceiling. Another large venue in the building is the 2,668-square-foot Alumni Conference Center, which can be used for dinners of up to 150 guests and also has a fireplace. The university’s former alumni center, about a block away, was an early 20th century home with no multipurpose space.
  • A piano in the 1,700-square-foot Robert J. Brennan ’65 room at the Fairfield (University) Alumni House in Connecticut creates a melodic backdrop for social gatherings. Holding 150 for dinner or 300 for a standing reception, it also offers space to one side that’s appropriate for more formal meetings. The building’s second floor houses a conference area and a work space for alumni relations staff. Architect: Michael Cusato (Fairfield University); construction: Connecticut Carpentry Corp.; interior design: Ka
  • The stone tower of Fairfield’s alumni house is more than an striking architectural detail visible on the outside. Just inside the door of the $2.6 million building, completed in May 2000, is an area with quarry tile leading to a staircase that takes visitors up through the tower. A chandelier, donated by the Incerto family, can be seen through the large windows on each side of the staircase.
  • Equipped for refreshments: A point of welcome for alumni, students, parents and friends of Tulane University in New Orleans, the Bea Field Alumni House is located near Yulman Stadium and used for tailgating parties.  Architect: Lee Ledbetter and Associates (New Orleans); restoration: Belfor and Company (Birmingham, Michigan); shoring contractor: Abry Brothers (New Orleans)
  •  A renovation to the Bea Field Alumni House completed in 2011 allows for a bigger variety of alumni gatherings and other special events for up to about 100 guests. Supporting the events is a well-appointed caterer’s kitchen as well as the Collins C. Diboll Gameday Bar sunroom that opens onto the great room.
  • Tulane’s Bea Field Alumni House is a circa-1941 building acquired by the university in 1951. The structure sustained damage from Hurricane Katrina, and a $1.5 million-plus renovation required raising the building first. The venue allows for more upscale tailgate parties compared to the traditional parking lot outside the stadium.
  • The $11 million Armand Hammer Alumni-Student Center at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma—completed in 2013—aims to connect the past with the future. Its second floor, with a muted color palette, is an alumni gathering spot featuring intimate lounge spaces and a large, flexible area. Alumni can browse the library of old yearbooks and books written by other alums. Visiting alumni share the first floor’s brightly colored dining areas and lounges with students.
  • Oral Roberts’ alumni-student center offers stunning views from its second floor alumni area, such as this space overlooking the university’s iconic Prayer Tower and Lake Evelyn. The building was the first new construction project on campus in 30 years. (Photo: Melissa Lukenbaugh Photography)
  • Alumni visiting Oral Roberts have their own dedicated spaces but also share the first floor’s brightly colored dining areas and lounges with students. A landing with modern art separates the two floors.  (Photo: Melissa Lukenbaugh Photography)

With the need to host both one-on-one donor chats plus receptions for a hundred or more alumni and friends, campus alumni houses tend to be versatile venues. While great rooms in these buildings must have space for that next big event, the aim is for an intimate group not to feel swallowed up by the space.

Furniture choice and placement becomes very important, says Jeff Schanz, presiding officer of the Association of Private College and University Alumni Directors. “A lot of schools are purchasing some rugs and furniture to ‘small’ the place down a bit for when there’s not a big function—to give people a place to sit and read.”

These cozy nooks encourage students to visit the alumni house, too. “Ours is open to the entire campus,” says Schanz, who’s also assistant vice president for alumni relations at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

In fact, RPI’s Heffner Alumni House hosts study days ahead of midterms and finals. Students can fuel up on complimentary snacks as they hit the books or practice group presentations into the wee hours of the night. Of RPI’s approximately 5,000 undergrads, about 600 will spend time at Heffner over two days. “It’s sort of the place to be,” Schanz says.

These facilities may house a number of offices—alumni relations, naturally, but sometimes career development and even admissions, he has found. And besides being the place for official business and events, many of these centers are available for alumni rental. Overnight accommodations may even be an option.

Celebrating graduates occurs every day at campus alumni houses. Having yearbooks, historical records and photos on display is “a big deal for us and I think a big deal for most schools,” says Schanz. “We have an alumni hall of fame section in our library.”

Alumni success images and stories often adorn the walls of the reception area, too—and they’re as likely to be displayed on a flat-screen panel as they are in a frame.

Visitors may well see an iconic campus building outside the windows because alumni houses tend to be strategically placed. “It’s very valuable space, so they want to take advantage of what’s surrounding the house,” Schanz says.

Following are examples of campus alumni houses whose interiors highlight current trends in these facilities.