Serving as a vibrant, active gathering place for its students, Roanoke College’s Colket Center is the signature building on campus, according to Richard Myers, director of Roanoke’s physical plant and college representative for the renovation’s development team. With several lounges and meeting spaces, a bookstore and post office, and the only campus dining facility, the Center is an ideal place to spend time. “The students love it,” says Myers.
The building gives the impression that it has always appeared the way it does now. The fact that it underwent a major renovation less than two years ago is virtually undetectable. As Bryant Robey, principal, Pittsburgh-based WTW Architects, remembers one person saying at the Center’s dedication: “It fits like it’s been there forever.” This seamless architectural flow is exactly what Roanoke College had in mind when WTW was enlisted for a complete study of the campus center renovation and addition.
The Challenges of New Needs
Originally built in 1910, the Commons Building was home to Roanoke’s central dining facility. As the student population grew, however, so did the need for more room. A major renovation and addition in 1977 created the Sutton Student Center, which not only provided superior dining facilities but also offered space for a campus bookstore; post office; and meeting, recreation, and lounge spaces.
Twenty years later, the college was faced with the same problem again. It had outgrown its 40,000-square-foot facility and was ready for even more space, updated facilities, and a building that better matched the campus’ Collegiate Tudor architectural style. “The old student center was basically a box. It didn’t match anything that we had on campus. When we went to look at designing the student center, we wanted to make that quadrangle look as uniform as it possibly could,” explains Myers.
Unable to expand the Center horizontally due to the location of surrounding campus buildings and changes in ground elevation, the team decided that the new campus center would occupy its existing site and that only a portion of the existing facility would remain. It was also established that the new facility would need to reach 60,000 square feet (one and a half times its current size) while occupying only a slightly larger area than the existing building. WTW’s design featured an addition with three stories that could be combined with the various levels of the existing building.
“One of the main challenges was that the floor-to-floor heights between what existed in the 1910 building and what needed to exist in the new building were significantly different,” Robey describes. That misalignment meant the floors could be the same elevation at only one level. So, the main floor level of the new addition was aligned with the existing ground-floor level of the 1910 Commons Building.
Another challenge was creating advanced food preparation and dining spaces in an area that was constantly being used. “[Roanoke has] a very upscale and diversified menu, and this is the only location on campus where food is served,” says Robey. Because of the college’s emphasis on quality dining experiences, the new space was made proportionally larger than those seen at other schools with a similar-sized student body. To accommodate the demands on food service, the project was broken down into three phases. With the development team working together, the renovation of the food preparation space began immediately after graduation in May 1999 and was open again for the first day of classes the following fall semester.
A Gathering Place
With the primary entrance in the middle of the three floors, many places in Colket Center can be accessed without a change of level. The Center’s atrium is open between the main and second levels to give students an immediate sense of what is going on inside as they enter. “We wanted everything to feed off a central core and the program spaces to be easily accessible. And we wanted to give users the ability to come in the front door and see their friends on another level or at a function while visualizing an idea of where they’re going before they get there,” says Robey.
While the building serves primarily the same functions as it did before the renovation, all the features have been refined and expanded. The dining areas were modernized and additional storage space was added. Roanoke’s old ballroom was expanded and made nearly twice as large as its original size. The larger bookstore and post office now occupy a sizable portion of the lower level of Colket Center. Entertainment facilities (television lounge, commuter lounge, game room, and a snack bar) are present throughout the Center for informal gatherings. The Sutton Commons area has an expanded seating area to accommodate the growth of the student population, and more meeting and office space has been devoted to student groups and organizations. The building also contains a computer lounge and a studio room for the college’s developing radio station.
“It was a really great project. Nice people and a beautiful campus,” concludes Robey. As Roanoke College continues to grow, Colket Center will have the room to accommodate its dynamic, on-the-go students and the activities they bring to the Center. Leah B. Garris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial coordinator at Buildings magazine.