October 25, 2007

Higher education projects invigorate neighborhoods

  • Community college expansions in Portland and Bremerton were designed to complement their surrounding neighborhoods.
    Yost Grube Hall Architecture

    Photo courtesy of YGH Architecture
    Olympic College’s Science and Technology building is located with other large buildings in the center of campus. Buildings along the edge of campus are smaller to fit with the neighborhood.

    Institutional growth through facilities and programs can be a catalyst for positive change in urban neighborhoods. The opening of a school always heralds another step forward for neighborhood vitality. School closures on the other hand, especially in urban neighborhoods, seem to frequently be the harbinger of a community’s decline.

    Yost Grube Hall Architecture recently completed two significant institutional projects: a major master plan and multi-building expansion for Portland Community College’s Cascade campus; and an academic building and new campus gateway at Olympic College’s Bremerton campus. Portland and Bremerton have experienced positive results of the college’s investments in their communities.

    Portland Community College

    Situated in the Humboldt neighborhood of North Portland, PCC commissioned YGH to create a master plan and then design four academic facilities and a physical education center. Each has its own identity and structural uniqueness, while material consistency and interior elements promote a shared identity and perceptible campus fabric. Among the common features are large glass entrances that bring in natural light, along with fenestration patterns and room orientation that create light-filled interiors. The five structures total more than 350,000 square feet.

    Originally built as a private college, the Cascade campus grew slowly over the past 20 years within a largely commercial area, until a 2001 board vote approved $57 million for comprehensive academic facilities. The expansion is likely to increase the Cascade student population by 40 percent.

    The Cascade campus expansion took advantage of open and underused parcels while maintaining the commercial area along North Killingsworth Street. Buildings that face the commercial streets have a storefront character; while beyond the urban edge, a second face of the campus opens onto a large plaza and quadrangle areas along a central green spine at the heart of the campus. Unlike the traditional mega-structure expansion seen in many urban community colleges, PCC chose to expand in multiple mid-scale buildings that fit the urban commercial character of the neighborhood.

    New spaces for arts and humanities, technology and physical education are in two-floor brick structures built to maintain the main street edge. Additions to the science building, the student center and a classroom building increase the density of the campus and are cost-effective improvements. A vacant grocery store was adapted to provide training facilities for fire, police and emergency medical service programs.

    The Cascade campus is used for a combination of college and private commercial activities. The uses are varied, from traditional classrooms, faculty offices and art studios to professional music and recording studios, bookstore space and vocational training centers. All have a storefront character to encourage openness and the accessibility of the college to the community.

    The local urban community not only derives an identity from its proximity to the campus, but local residents and business people can take advantage of the college’s performance, recreation and academic resources. Also, the campus is more accessible from other areas, thanks to the completion of the city’s northern leg of the MAX light-rail system.

    PCC’s expansion triggered the use of an impact mitigation plan, a planning tool intended to promote long-term understanding between city neighborhoods and valued institutions. The mitigation plan, which focuses on the buildings’ impact on transportation and infrastructure, will serve as a guide for future campus development.

    The master plan expands the applicability of the impact mitigation plan by concentrating on long-term thresholds that would trigger associated mitigating improvements. By taking this approach, the master plan avoided specifying individual projects that would be built, thereby extending the life of the master plan and the number and type of future projects. At the same time, campus activity spurred the city to undertake improvements in the rights of way, including hardscape design, public lighting and landscaping.

    Portland Community College created state-of-the-art facilities that enhance learning opportunities while bringing important revitalization to the city’s neighborhoods.

    Olympic College

    In 1946, Olympic College (then known as Olympic Junior College) opened on the Olympic Peninsula. Classes and extracurricular activities were offered in numerous K-12 facilities purchased from the Bremerton School District.

    The college commissioned YGH for a new Science and Technology building and, more recently, a new Humanities & Student Services building, as well as a new north campus gateway. Other projects recently completed include the library and a renovation of the Bremer Student Center.

    With a master plan process under way, additional proposed buildings include a Performing Arts Center and a physical education building remodel, among others.

    Olympic has followed a model similar to that realized at PCC; edge buildings are appropriately scaled to the neighborhood with larger buildings sited in central positions. As Olympic fills out to its real and perceived boundaries with new and replacement facilities, it engages the surrounding neighborhood and the Bremerton community at large. Joint programs with adjacent Bremerton High School have enriched both, while partnering opportunities are being explored for community uses of the Performing Arts Center.

    National trends indicate steady enrollment growth in two-year institutions. Olympic College is moving forward with state-of-the-art academic facilities as the Bremerton community witnesses continued growth and economic investment.

    Edward Vaivoda Jr., FAIA, is a principal of Yost Grube Hall Architecture. Ben Hufford, AIA, is a former associate of the firm.

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