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Ready to take center stage

Precisely how Ohio University's new Baker University Center will enhance campus life can't yet be fully known. But rest assured, the new "center" of campus will bring changes that are positively dynamic.

Oct. 26, 2006
By Elizabeth Boyle

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories on the new center.

This will be the new center of campus. Rising from a bluff that until now has separated the upper and lower portions of campus, the new Baker University Center promises to unify the university community both literally and, more importantly, figuratively.

Its stately Georgian-style architecture and unique setting are no doubt impressive. But once you're inside, the real significance of the new center hits you. You're at the crossroads.

Gaze out the north side of the fourth floor, and you're a few paces away from students passing on Court Street. Turn to the south, and you're peering over Grover Center and eye-level with The Ridges. 

Its physical location means that as soon as the 183,300-square-foot facility fully opens on Jan. 2, pedestrian traffic patterns will pass right through it.

The amenities inside, though, guarantee this will be much more than a handy shortcut. Among them:

  • Academic support services and information
  • Almost three times the current space for student organizations
  • A food court offering seven concepts, from sushi to Tex-Mex, as well as a fine dining restaurant
  • A new take on an old favorite -- The Front Room Coffeehouse
  • A 225-seat theater for lectures, presentations and other programs
  • Multiple indoor and outdoor lounges, including the 1804 Lounge
  • Four times the conference and meeting space of the current center
  • A ballroom twice the size of the existing one

Expansive windows throughout the building offer spectacular views of campus and lots of natural light. In contrast to the exterior's rich red brick and distinctive white columns and accents, the interior has a contemporary feel. High ceilings, ergonomic furniture and a color scheme of sage, plum and mocha create an inviting, casual atmosphere.

"The new Baker University Center will be the ultimate multipurpose hangout for students -- a place to study between classes, to meet up with friends for fun on the weekend, to have a coffee or a meal, or to work on your student organizations' projects," observes Dean of Students Terry Hogan.

Likewise, the opportunities to interact with colleagues, meet for lunch and host professional gatherings will make the university center a popular destination for faculty, staff and community members alike.

Among the perks outside the building is additional parking. An underground garage includes 170 $1-per-hour spots and 50 spaces that can be reserved for $100 per month by faculty, staff and students whose names are drawn in a lottery. An outside 96-space lot is for faculty/staff use on weekdays and public use during the evenings and weekends.

The primary contractor on the project, Smoot Construction of Columbus, is scheduled to hand over the keys Nov. 17. University offices to be housed in the center begin moving in Nov. 20, and the building will be open for limited operations during business hours from Nov. 27 to Jan. 2, when regular hours take effect. A dedication celebration is set for Feb. 10.

Rising to the top

The "Main Street effect" is something planners prepared for from the start by incorporating an escalator system to carry people through the building. This design feature earned the facility mention in a 2006 Association of College Unions International book as a best practice for connecting two parts of campus.

"You are one of the few if not one of the only campus centers that has an escalator in the middle of the building," says Doug Shuck, lead architect on the project for WTW Architects, the Pittsburgh firm that oversaw the facility's interior design. (Moody Nolan of Columbus served as the exterior architect.)

The escalator helps the building accomplish another other main goal: to encourage collaboration among diverse groups.

"As people flow through that building, they will see their friends or roommates. You can get a nice sense of the pulse of the activities in the building just by going through it," says Shuck, whose firm specializes in university projects. He adds that multiple meeting rooms, comfortable lounge areas and numerous other venues will encourage easy interaction among campus groups.

That will lead to student engagement outside the classroom, a key intention of the new university center. The facility offers a student help center, a one-stop shop for students' academic questions; a student leadership center; an enhanced Multicultural Center; work spaces for 39 student organizations; a full-service computer lab; and the offices of Career Services, International Student and Faculty Services, Student Affairs and others.

Ultimately, the center will mean better learning experiences for everyone, says David Descutner, dean of University College and associate provost for undergraduate education.

"With the new Baker's location near the library, where the established Learning Commons will soon be complemented by the new Faculty Commons, I believe that the campus, for the first time, will have a more integrated approach to enhancing students' learning experiences inside and outside the classroom and the faculty's development as teachers and scholars," Descutner says.

Bricks and mortar

Richard Shultz, who is overseeing the project for University Planning and Implementation, likes that the building doesn't look like a behemoth. With $46.5 million going into the construction and $13.5 million spent on the equipment and furnishings, that easily could have been the case.

"We wanted you to look at the building and have it not look like one big thing. The atrium helped break it up," he says, noting that both architecture teams worked closely with campus groups, including students, as the design evolved. The atrium divides destinations on the east side of the building from those on the west, drawing visitors' eyes to the cupola above.

The site of the current Baker Center has been designated for the College of Communication. The university expects, in early 2007, to have a recommendation from The Collaborative Inc., a Toledo design firm that is looking into whether it is best to renovate the existing structure or build a new one.

The new building, under construction since March 2004, is being funded by $20 million in state capital improvement monies and a $60 quarterly student fee being used to retire $40 million in bonds. The student fee takes effect winter quarter.

That's a large investment, to be sure. But a necessary one, says Terry Hogan, pointing out that the current Baker University Center opened in 1954, when student enrollment totaled 5,200 compared to today's figure of nearly 20,000.

David Descutner agrees: "Reaching the next level of national prominence requires, among other things, improved facilities such as better classrooms and residence halls as well as a better university center of the sort that the new Baker represents."


Elizabeth Boyle is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.

 

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Published: Jan 3, 2007 9:35:38 AM
 
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