SCUP Presentation: Student Residence Halls of the ’50s and ’60s

SCUP will present “Student Residence Halls of the ’50s and ’60s: Creative, Budget-Friendly, and Innovative Solutions to Bring them into the 21st Century,” at SCUP North Atlantic at the Omni Providence in Providence, R.I. on Monday, April 13 at 2:45 p.m.

by Jim Devol and Marco Tommasini

Jim Devol_Gilbane (2)

Jim Devol

Marco Tommasini_Tecton

Marco Tommasini

In the 1950s and ’60s, colleges and universities built utilitarian residence halls that now do not serve the needs and expectations of students and residence life professionals. Many buildings are in need of modernization and program adjustments. Most are not ADA-compliant, and the mechanical systems are often at the end of their life cycle. In many cases, although these issues are present, the income from these facilities often supports the debt service for newer residence halls.

So how do you approach the reconditioning of these residence halls?

If you need an elevator, the building has no real entry, and you need social space, consider building an elevator tower with the spaces you need in the tower. These might include lounges, laundries, hall director apartments, or mechanical spaces for new HVAC equipment. Building the tower can be more cost-effective than trying to shoe horn an elevator into an existing building. Adding the entry tower in a new location can adjust the entry point and reposition and accommodate the new flow of the campus circulation.

If added space is required for mechanical equipment, a generator, or a hall director’s apartment, consider building an “out building” to house these functions. The structures can be utilized to create an edge to a new quad between buildings that does not exist.

Many buildings have gang bathrooms, and often, renovating in-place to meet code results in losing a toilet fixture or shower.  Consider splitting the large room into two separate rooms in the same footprint, allowing for the same total fixture count in the same area, but with smaller more private bathrooms.

Many residence halls have tunnel-like corridors with doors too narrow for accessibility. Articulating the walls can alleviate this perception. If you have to widen the doors for ADA reasons, recess them 4 inches into the room. This doesn’t have a large effect on the room square footage, but it dramatically changes the perception of the hallway, and the cost of the recess is minimal. Build ceiling coffers to provide MEP chasses and to break up the ceiling.

The exterior of many of these buildings are flat planes of brick with large rectangular windows. Adding articulation to the façade using alternative materials can transform the exterior. However, adding weight to the building is a challenge. Hanging a ”box out” on the slabs utilizing light-gage metal stud framing can push the exterior wall out to the edge of the slab, creating window seats, as they also relieve the flat plane of the exterior of the building.

HVAC systems are often at the end of their life. In numerous studies, fan coil units end up being the most cost-effective systems to use. The location and type (vertical or horizontal) is driven by the structure of the building. The utilization of variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems is growing, and they are highly efficient with smaller piping than hot/chilled water piping.

Scheduling renovations can be a financial challenge as the bed income is an integral component on the financials/budget of the school or housing auxiliary. These approaches can eliminate the lost income or reduce the down time:

  • Building a swing space can be the easiest solution if the school needs the beds long-term. The new building should have the same or larger bed count than the building(s) to be renovated.
  • Full renovations over summers only can be successful, but usually take at least two summers, and can incur a high premium for labor costs.
  • Consider one semester – one summer renovations. The eight to nine months available is often adequate to execute an addition and renovation to a 200- to 300-bed residence hall.

Changing dorms into residence halls in a short time frame and in a cost-effective manner is possible with team work, utilization of creative solutions, and being open to approaching innovative ideas.

Jim Devol is a senior project executive with Gilbane Building Company. Marco Tommasini is the associate principal, director of Rhode Island Operations for Tecton Architect.