No Stranger to Change

July 8, 2002
PSU Combines Innovation With Ingenuity to Improve Campus Facilities
Portland State University (PSU) is certainly no stranger to change. Nor does the facilities department shy away from challenges. Located in one of the Northwest’s most striking cities, the University is currently involved in planning, renovating, constructing, and completing nine projects – ranging in cost and complexity. Buildings magazine takes a moment to examine how PSU is turning three outdated facilities into student-pleasing environments.Principles of Biology Laboratory When Stan Hillman, Biology Department chair at PSU came to the facilities department with an idea, Room 409 in the Science 1 Building was just a typical laboratory – a room filled with rows of lab tables topped with racks and sinks. At the moment Brian J. Chase, then director of Facilities and Auxiliary Services, and his staff heard that the old, bench-style lab tables were not conducive to student interaction, planning for the 1,200-square-foot room began. “In the biology lab, I personally got involved in sitting down with the biologists who said, ‘We want a different kind of room than a traditional lab.’ So we did a design brainstorming charette right there in the lab,” explains Chase.What resulted was an in-house, collaborative effort that took advantage of all the resources at hand. Walls were painted, new window blinds hung – but more importantly, existing worksurfaces were replaced with custom-built, round tables. Facilities department architect, Tom Arnich, designed a prototype, and when the exact dimensions were determined, the University’s carpentry services began building the new furniture. Flat-screen computer monitors and keyboards with multiple mouses allow students to interact better with each other and technology. The circular tables improve circulation and provide plenty of worksurface for microscapes, lab trays, and laptop computers. “They seem really enthused with it and happy that attention was being paid to them to help the learning and teaching environment,” says Arnich of the completed lab.The Bradford P. Millar Library With the Internet came the need to accommodate more than traditional books and periodicals in libraries across the globe. The Bradford P. Millar Library, the largest research library in the Portland Metropolitan area and PSU’s only library, was badly in need of change. Library Director C. Thomas Pfingsten wanted to better meet the technology needs of students and researchers and improve efficiency by centrally locating reference librarians. The previous organization of the library had resources and reference librarians divided by discipline throughout the five-story, 194,783-square-foot facility. “The impetus of this was to create a more efficient way for people to get information for research and reference and to be able to cross-train reference librarians,” explains Burt Ewart, supervisory special projects architect, PSU.Ewart and the rest of PSU’s architectural services put together the original conceptualization for a second-floor renovation and then used the services of Fletcher Farr Ayotte, a Portland architecture and design firm, to expand upon the design. The result was the creation of the new James Miller Research and Reference Center, a single multi-disciplinary reference service point, numerous computers for research support, and the reorganization of the Library’s collection into one continuous call number sequence. “It’s been a blazing success,” says Ewart.Smith Memorial Center It’s the hub, the epicenter of campus, and the University’s “living room.” PSU’s student union, Smith Memorial Center, is the place where student groups, organizations, advisors, friends, faculty, and community gather. With overwhelming support from students willing to allocate funds from student building fees, Smith Memorial Center is currently undergoing an extensive three-phase, $4 million transformation. “By the end of most of these projects, the whole building will have been brought up to the modern age. It had not had anything done to it since about 1963, so it was in dire need of upgrading,” explains Nancy Merryman, principal at Portland-based Robertson, Merryman, Barnes Architects Inc.The four-story Smith Memorial Center contains 225,000 square feet of space and was built in four quadrants between 1954 and 1962. Renovation goals include the relocation of student groups to a more visible location, improving the aesthetics and character of the spaces, improving wayfinding, upgrading electrical/mechanical systems, complying with ADA guidelines, and installing life-safety systems. Nearing the completion of phase two, the facility has already been vastly improved through the renovation of the first and second floors, addition of sprinklers and life-safety systems, the completion of a short-term childcare center, remodeling of the main entrance known as the Broadway lobby, and allocation of spaces for student organizations.Future phases involve the continuation of installing life-safety and mechanical/electrical upgrades, as well as remodeling the third-floor Ballroom, seismic upgrades, and the addition of a partial fifth story.Innovation reigns supreme at PSU, an institution committed to students and faculty – and blessed with a facilities department that defines ingenuity. “I really think they’re unsung heroes, quiet people who do amazing things with the tools at hand, with limited budgets, deadlines, and facilities that have to be up and running at the same time you’re upgrading them,” says Spokane, WA-based independent contractor, Mike DeCesare, of the group of facilities professionals at Portland State University.Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

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