By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the March 2009 issue of Facility Executive
Nearly a decade ago, administrators at Presbyterian College (PC) in Clinton, SC created a master plan for the school’s 240 acre campus. Since then, administrators at the private, four year institution have been carrying out facility projects according to the plan—the most recent being Lassiter Hall, a new home for the biology department. Completed in February 2008, this 28,600 square foot building provides students and faculty with spaces dedicated to their discipline.
Previously, the biology, chemistry, and physics departments at PC were co-located in one building—Richardson Hall. Constructed in 1965, this facility is comprised of three levels, and the biology department, more or less, occupied one of those floors. Over the years, members of the three departments found themselves overlapping and sharing resources within some spaces.
Following the master plan, as well as the evolving needs of the science departments, the administration began planning in 2005 for a new building that would house the biology and chemistry departments. However, as David Walker, director of campus services for PC since 2005, explains, the project eventually came to focus solely on the biology department.
“As financial realities set in, we decided to divide the project into two phases,” he says. “And we opted to add a wing for biology first. The college plans to add the second phase, a new chemistry wing, as soon as possible.
“PC has a long standing reputation for producing first rate pre-med students and a strong commitment to the sciences,” continues Walker. “[The biology building] was included in the campus master plan in 1999, recognizing that the 21st century would demand even more of the sciences. Biology was becoming a much more important department here on campus.”
Planning The Facility
With the aim of keeping its science departments near each other, PC administration chose to locate Lassiter Hall adjacent to Richardson Hall. The new building was sited perpendicular to the existing facility, with its main entrance facing a grassy quad.
With the involvement of PC president, Dr. John Griffith, Walker worked with the Atlanta, GA office of Lord, Aeck & Sargent (LAS), which provided architectural and interior design services. Says Walker, “We challenged the architects to create a facility that would be true to the Georgian architecture on campus and blend harmoniously with every building.”
In addition, the LAS design team knew PC planned to build a chemistry wing at a future date, and that facility would face Lassiter Hall from across the quad. Therefore, there was a conscious effort to unify the appearance (and function) of Lassiter Hall with the existing Richardson Hall and the future chemistry wing.
Rajiv Wanasundera, AIA, an architect at LAS and project architect for Lassiter Hall, explains, “PC has a beautiful campus; it’s incredibly cohesive with many of the buildings designed in a neo-Georgian aesthetic. So we wanted to create a building that would be very contextual and look like it belonged there.
“In terms of functionality,” Wanasundera continues, “the key principle was flexibility of the spaces. Previously, the classes would have a pre-lab lecture in a classroom and then proceed into a lab. Now, this all takes place within one lab space. The faculty can teach a class and conduct a practical demonstration. We designed as much flexibility as we could into the furnishings and fixtures—with adjustable tables and an integrated teaching wall, for instance.”
Accommodating multiple learning functions may have required larger than usual individual classroom spaces. But Wanasundera says this was not the case. “That wasn’t particularly an issue. Additionally, due to the flexibility, the labs can be used by more than one discipline; for example, labs are shared between anatomy and genetics, and between physiology and microbiology.”
While the construction of Lassiter Hall was aimed at giving the biology department its own facility, PC still wanted the new building to be connected to Richardson Hall, both physically and conceptually. This would serve to reinforce that area of the campus as dedicated to the sciences.
Situated in between the two buildings was a frequently used pedestrian route, and that was a walkway the project team needed to preserve. Says Walker, “The biology wing had to connect in a way that would complement both facilities and not impact the existing route. Working with our designers, we settled on a bridge connector that allowed for a widened pedestrian walkway and gathering area. This connector is now one of the most popular spots for students and faculty to spend leisure time.”
Spanning the pedestrian walkway, the connector was designed to serve as more than a hallway—something the PC team gave as a charge to the architects. “PC recognized the importance of this bridge as an informal learning space,” says Wanasundera. “In fact, as we went through construction documents and reviewed budget limitations, the administration was clear that it wanted to keep the bridge. Recognition was given to the potential of the space.”
Designed with large windows, pre-finished wood flooring, and comfortable seating, the space has indeed become more than a way for students and faculty to travel between Lassiter Hall and Richardson Hall, according to PC. Says Griffith, “The connector’s inside and outside spaces have become two of the most popular on campus. It is an exciting landmark space that fits in and that people are attracted to and will remember.”
Another aesthetically striking component of Lassiter Hall is its two story main entryway. Walking into this lobby that features a terrazzo tile floor, students and faculty are greeted by a 750 square foot ceiling mural painted by artist, Brenda Mauney Councill. Titled “The Spiral of Life,” the mural was donated by a friend of the college, Irwin Belk, who has donated art to PC in the past.
Described as “an iconic representation of the origin and biology of life” and set against a sky blue background, the mural is laced with a DNA spiral connected and intertwined with the plant and animal kingdom—indicating the development of living things ranging from bacteria to highly evolved mammals.
Commenting on the utilitarian approach so often used in the design of science buildings, Wanasundera notes this is one area where Lassiter Hall was a departure from some of his past projects. “The generosity of the common spaces in Lassiter Hall is quite remarkable,” he says. “The fact that there is such a generous lobby, along with the connector space, makes the building quite special.”
Behind The Scenes
The specific needs of Lassiter Hall as a classroom and laboratory facility required the project team to focus on building systems and other technologies as tools to foster efficient operation and maintenance. Says Walker, “Early on, we knew that cost of operation and technology would be two of the most important factors. Working with our designers, we chose energy efficient, low maintenance systems. To that end, automated lighting and climate control systems have kept costs in check.
“I also believe a good commissioning plan is crucial for ‘system heavy’ buildings like this one,” he continues. “We were very deliberate and very dedicated to making sure that every valve and switch was checked and double checked. In terms of technological challenges, we were aware that the choices we made had to consider needs a decade away. With this in mind, we spent a lot of time with vendors and faculty discussing everything from scientific equipment to audiovisual needs.
“I spent 25 years in the Navy before starting a second career in facility management,” adds Walker, “and I’m pretty sure the whole idea of commissioning was a product of designing and testing a ship before it is put to sea. Commissioning provides a level of quality control that can’t be found elsewhere in the construction process; by nature, construction is a hectic and sometimes frantic activity. Our commissioning agent was a key member of the team, ensuring that system integrity remained in front of every other priority.”
This past February marked a year of operation in Lassiter Hall, and Walker notes it has been a relatively smooth transition. “We’re very pleased with the way the building is operating. We have had a few mechanical issues and learned that the rear view is always the most accurate view, but overall have had very few problems. In fact, rather than problems, I’d say there have been a few issues with learning how to interface with the systems in the building, and that’s to be expected in any complex science building.”
The True Test
Beyond the behind the scenes operation of Lassiter Hall, Walker has been pleased by the way the building is serving its core mission. “The quality of faculty and student interaction with the building has been the most important indicator of success,” he says. “According to faculty, this facility allows for better, more in depth instruction and a better teaching environment.”
Having support from PC president Griffith and effective collaboration with the firms hired for the project were crucial to bringing the facility online in a relatively smooth manner, notes Walker. “We let the project team know early on that we wanted to build on budget, to high standards, and on time. The result was that we achieved all three. This would not have happened without complete buy-in and a strong management commitment.
“The most important thing the college management team did to ensure standards are met was to state the expectations early, restate them often, and require everyone to be accountable. A good contractor and good subs will respond positively to clear expectations.”
As a 10-year document, the PC campus master plan will have run its course by 2010, and Lassiter Hall is one of the last pieces of that plan. In his role, Walker will continue to further the goals of PC’s educational mission with his expertise in project and facility management.
This article was based on interviews with Walker (www.presby.edu) and Wanasundera (email@example.com).