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Inside Look: Repurposed buildings for higher ed

Adaptive reuse in higher ed blends the old with the new
University Business, November 2018
  • When repurposing a post office (circa 1918) into a $9 million residential hall (completed in 2017), Oklahoma State U Institute of Technology kept original skylights, exposed pipes/ductwork, mailboxes, and exposed brick in a tech bar and 11 loft-style apartments. Murals can be found throughout the 76-bed hall—in the 18 flat-style apartments, community kitchen, bathrooms, lobby and lounge. Project manager: KSQ Design; architect: Sikes Abernathie Architects. Melissa Lukenbaugh photo.
  • Most of Lackawanna College’s accounting, business and criminal justice classes took place in the former Hazleton Center in Pennsylvania. Classes moved into the Traders Bank (circa 1928) in January 2018. The $750,000 project kept the original marble floors that complement the asymmetrical glass walls, metal fixtures, 50-foot ceilings, stone pillars and arched windows. The vestibule is now encased in glass. Architect: Joe Rominski Architecture; owner/project manager: DHD Realty. Heather Chulick photo.
  • In 2017, Lehigh U in Pennsylvania revived a former Bethlehem Steel research facility as an experiential academic environment. Interior “mixing box” additions connect the original three-story office and lab “crescent” to high-bays. The 110,000-square-foot renovation houses the computer science department’s Data X analytics initiative, along with a variety of classrooms, workshops and student project areas that support Lehigh’s Mountaintop Experience. Lead designer: EYP.  Halkin Mason Photography.
  • The art department at Samford U in Alabama needed a new space. In September 2015, the university spent $1.6 million to repurpose a 1974 maintenance shed for lightbulbs and lawn mowers into the Art Lofts. Holes were punched in the exterior walls to let in light without sacrificing space for hanging art. The university retained glass-skinned atriums that provide natural lighting for all three floors. Architect: Davis Architects; construction company: HOAR Construction. Samford U. photo.
  • The Windsor Armouries, completed in 1902, served as the only armory in Canada’s Essex County for more than 100 years. As of March 2018, it is now the University of Windsor’s $57 million School of Creative Arts. A spiral staircase, which no longer meets building codes, now hangs as a piece of art. Restored oak doors (shown), too heavy for everyday use, remain open permanently. Architects: CS&P Architects and ERA Architects, Heritage; engineer: WSP, Structural; engineer consultant: Smith + Andersen, M/E.
  • In 2015, Lesley U relocated an 1845 church 100 yards so the public would more readily see what the Massachusetts school converted into the $47 million Moriarty Library. It addressed the beautiful, yet potentially awkward, ceilings by converting the attic into an illustration studio with skylights (left). The former sanctuary’s pews were removed to make room for book stacks (right). Architect: Bruner/Cott & Associates; contractor: John Moriarty & Associates. Mark Teiwes, Lesley University photo (left).
  • Chatfield College in Ohio used modern insulation in replicating the windows of the former Windisch-Muhlhauser and Lion Brewery stable, circa 1870. Thermal technology reduced energy use by 15 percent. Water-source heat pumps and an outside air system increased energy savings up to 40 percent. Project manager, architect, designer and sustainability consultant: Emersion Design; engineers: CMTA and Pinnacle Engineering; historic tax credit consultant: Gray & Pape. Dish Design, Emersion Design, photo.
  • Turning the Carmelita Landra Arena ice rink into a facility for use by all varsity athletes involved the facilities team at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts replacing 45-year-old high-intensity discharge lamp fixtures with new, efficient LED lighting. LED lighting is more economical and conducive to training activities. The project team also incorporated low-flow fixtures and a high-efficiency, gas-fired domestic hot water heater.
  • When converting a church built in 1845 into the Moriarty Library, Lesley U in Massachusetts installed radiant floors and fan coil units. Coils of liquid encased in the floors cool the air in the summer and warm it in the winter. Ventilation arms (pictured) remove air contaminants while an enthalpy wheel provides exhaust air heat recovery, the latter of which has improved heating and ventilation effectiveness by roughly 70 percent. Robert Benson, Courtesy Bruner/Cott Architects, photo.
  • Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota converted the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library into a home for its education department. The facility, Anderson Hall, achieved LEED Gold certification, in part for a 40 percent reduction in energy costs. A multifaith center within the building includes low-flow water fixtures and new boilers, which replace an original heating apparatus that was connected by tunnels to a campuswide steam system. Architect: BWBR Architects; construction management: Kraus-Anderson.
  • When repurposing an architecture office into the Seaboard Depot Art Studios at Georgia’s Columbus State University in a $1.5 million project in 2016, staff applied upson board to many of the upper floors’ interior walls. This eliminated the need for paint, improved acoustics and provided a flexible surface for posting art. Those floors were stripped of carpet to save on future replacement costs. Fluorescent light fixtures on lower floors were retained. Arched wood entry doors were refinished.
  • Samford University in Alabama kept waste down when converting a maintenance shed into the Art Lofts by retaining the original green steel beams. New gray steel beams were added for reinforcement. The project team milled campus oaks damaged during a tornado to create the wood for the main atrium and seminar room. Some flooring was retained to reduce waste, though the university installed 3/4-inch plywood on top to keep paint from dripping down the cracks. Larry Thompson photo.
  • A former 1870 stable building and a 1923 broom factory addition were used by Chatfield College in Ohio. Original stairs and exposed brick, and exposed wood joists and board ceilings in office areas were kept. The $3.5 million project, completed in 2015, provides low-income adult students with workspaces and classrooms. Designer: Emersion Design; 
engineering consultant: CMTA; 
environmental consultant: Pinnacle Engineering; 
architect: Gray & Pape.
  • In 2016, Columbus State U repurposed a Georgia building into the 16,326-square-foot Seaboard Depot Art Studios. The facility houses a gallery, production studios, classrooms and research areas. The $1.5 million project retained original wood beams and trusses and exposed brick and ductwork. An ADA-compliant ramp and entry were added to the upper floor, while sliding doors were installed on both floors to reflect the building’s utilitarian history. Architect: Sudhir Patel. Will Sanders photos.
  • A 1967 community indoor swimming pool constructed at North Dakota’s Dickinson State U became a storage facility when two indoor pools were built in 2011. In 2017, the space became the $61,713 Sanford Sports Facility for community baseball, softball, soccer, birthday parties and laser tag—but no swimming. Rather than fill in the pool, engineers developed a truss system (left) to support a large, solid floor and turf (right). The 110-foot-high by 75-foot-wide room also has a retractable net.
  • In 2015, Emory & Henry College completed the first of many phases in repurposing the former 140,000-square-foot Smyth County Community Hospital in Virginia. The $13 million first phase transformed hospital rooms into teaching spaces and simulation and cadaver labs for graduate programs. A new, free clinic provides training opportunities, and the old emergency room was converted into a center for fall prevention and obesity research. Architect: RRMM Architects; general contractor: Branch & Associates.
  • The 1972 Carmelita Landry Arena at Fitchburg State U in Massachusetts originally served the school and community as a second ice rink before it was converted into a $3.4 million facility for varsity athletes. The arena’s ice sheet is now a dividable AstroTurf field that supports concurrent practices. Medical suites, locker rooms, a sports science lab and fitness center were added. Construction manager: Walsh Brothers, Inc.; 
architect: Miller Dyer Spears; 
project managers: Colliers International.
  • Before August 2016, the outreach and professional education center at Kansas State U’s Polytechnic Campus housed the Schilling Air Force Base in 1956 and a student union in 1974 (pictured in 1985, left). The $800,000 project maximized natural light by installing new windows. Glass panels top office dividers for more light (right). Contractor: RF Benchmark Construction; architect: clark | huesemann; interior designer: Design Central; technology and media: Cytek Media Systems.
  • Columbus State University in Georgia installed studios in the repurposed Seaboard Depot facility to maximize natural light. The design works in concert with the older partition-style ceiling to bring in sunshine from all four sides. Exposed studs along the upper portion of the walls were also stained to allow light penetration. CSU staff, Will Sanders photo.
  • Built as a library in 1948, this structure became home to the social sciences at Minnesota’s Gustavus Adolphus College in 1973. A 2015 renovation of the 27,465-square-foot building included the demolition of three floors that previously held library stacks. This made room for the education department, writing and resource centers, and a multipurpose space for worship and reflection. Architect: BWBR Architects; construction manager: Kraus-Anderson.
  • Samford U in Alabama removed flooring from the second and third floors of a maintenance shed to create atrium-type spaces that increase visibility of displays at the Arts Lofts. Designers took out flooring on the second story to create the area that’s now the front atrium and a 600-square-foot space on the building’s east side. The university retained only one-third of the original top floor, which is used for storage. Architect: Davis Architects; constructor: HOAR Construction.
  • In 2017, the School of Visual Arts in New York finished a $3.56 million project to repurpose a warehouse into the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media building. It transformed the original exit and loading dock into an entryway with stairs to the Big Room: a lecture hall, screening area, classrooms and an exhibition space that accommodates faculty, the public and the entire student body. Architect, planner and interior designer: Spacesmith LLP;
 engineer: Backhaul Engineering. Alex Severin photo.
  • The adaptive reuse of the outreach and professional education center at Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus involved replacing old flooring with carpet tile squares designed for heavy foot traffic. To minimize waste and upkeep, campus crews can easily remove these tiles rather than having to install new carpet. The rest of the interior was converted into a campus testing center, office spaces and a 36-person training classroom.
  • Fitchburg State U in Massachusetts added new HVAC systems when converting its ice rink into the Carmelita Landra Arena. A system, located in a mechanical room, heats and cools the office. The exhaust fans in a gas-fired air rotation system ventilate the practice area during the summer. Additionally, a massive ceiling fan is used to circulate air and create more even temperatures during the winter in the strength training space. Emily O’Brien, Walsh Brothers Photo.

Architects strive to maintain the historical integrity of structures when repurposing buildings—while ensuring they provide comfort and the modern conveniences students need.

Called “adaptive reuse,” renovating older facilities for different functions often includes reimagining spaces and maximizing natural light.

But most higher ed institutions repurpose buildings because they have no other choice, says Alan Gribble, president of property management at Signet, a private real estate firm that specializes in public-private partnerships.

“Colleges and universities only have so much land, so they have to look to pre-existing facilities when they want to expand.”

Institutions may also pursue adaptive reuse to minimize construction waste, promote sustainability and reduce spending, says Gribble.

Creating open spaces

When adding new technologies, such as smart speakers, schools are now keeping these modern appliances visible rather than hiding them. But they’re simultaneously exposing older parts of the building as well.

“When structures are modernized, architects usually hide original beams with dropped ceilings,” says Gribble. “In adaptive reuse, we’re going back to seeing open layouts with exposed conduits.”

Doing this undoubtedly adds historical context, and can also make buildings more spacious.

“It’s highly desirable to make bigger, more open spaces especially for older buildings that feel closed in,” says Gribble. To accomplish this, the common practice is to maximize natural lighting by installing new windows, though older buildings sometimes can only support skylights.

Institutions usually try to increase floor plans for other projects such as student housing to fit more bedrooms and bathrooms.

Higher ed tends to appreciate facilities projects that involve repurposing rather than starting from scratch.

“There’s a different sense of satisfaction because of what you are able to do,” says Gribble. “Adaptive reuse touches the emotions a little bit more.”


Steven Blackburn is associate editor of UB.