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Friday, May 6, 2016

BV completes ambitious Pierce/White makeover

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A glass foyer, skywalk and shared areas refresh 1950s residence halls into a seamless coed community.
With a small army of workers crawling around the Pierce/White residence halls on the Buena Vista University campus, the scene changes literally by the hour - looking ever less like a bustling construction zone and more like a bright and welcoming home for 400 students who will flood into its newly-refreshed rooms in a matter of days.

"It will come right down to the wire, but our contractors are sure they will get there in time for the start of the semester," says Keith Schmidt, director of facilities management, providing a preview tour of the renovated structures late last week.

Outside, Pierce and White have a new, modern look, while retaining their classic mid-century cues as well. The front entrance is now frocked in a gleaming wall of glass, opening into an airy common plaza, showing off an open three-level staircase and a balcony-style open walkway above. Concrete was scheduled to be laid early this week.

"The two buildings were not really tied together when we started. With the entryway and skywalk, they become more of a common community," Schmidt says. In the process, the halls have been made fully disability-accessible for the first time, and much more energy-efficient - including such touches as a recycling room for each hall and occupancy sensors that turn off lights automatically when rooms are not in use. Bathrooms were gutted and replaced with facilities designed to prevent waste of water and paper, including individual showers with water-saving heads.

Even the philosophy of Pierce White has changed in the $13.1 million makeover. Long, dim halls have been opened up with natural lighting, light color schemes and open community spaces to break up the long lines of the buildings. Two dorm rooms were sacrificed in each hallway to create a new lounge area with large panels of windows that brighten the whole building. Both halls will be fully co-ed starting this fall.

Safety has been racheted up with a full sprinkler system, while the halls previously had only fire alarms. Even breathing should be easier. The "dormers" atop the buildings, previously just for looks, now house equipment that constantly introduces fresh air to the common areas of the entire complex, as opposed to a closed system that only recirculated trapped air in the past.

Each building has been outfitted with new study rooms - one element especially requested by students themselves, Schmidt says. While the 1956-vintage buildings appear as if brand new inside, a few touches have been retained. While plans were to replace woodwork such as the handrails on the stairs, BVU staff saved and resurfaced the warm, golden woods original to the building, with character and smoothness worn in by generations of young hands.

At the south end of Pierce, a sprawling new multi-purpose room has been added, with audio-visual equipment including a large flat-screen entertainment system. There is lots of soft seating, a full kitchen for student use and even some planned classes in cooking styles from around the world, courtesy of BVU's international students. But the real draw here is the stunning view, overlooking the newly-completed football field and the lake from three stories above.

The residential rooms themselves are flooded with natural light and outfitted with blonde wood furnishings. To open things up, closets have been removed and replaced with wooden wardrobes. Rooms with special door sensors are available for students with hearing challenges, and ones with wider doors await those with wheelchairs or other special needs.

It hasn't always been an easy process. "There were lots of surprises. When you are working with buildings 60 years old, sometimes when you open a wall or ceiling or area underground, you don't always find things the way you thought they would be," Schmidt recalls. "Early on in the process, we had a five-inch flood in here that set things back. It has been a challenge for our engineers, but we are very pleased with how it has come out."

Between the buildings, once a space of spotty grass and dirt, is taking shape as an attractive courtyard, to be useful for students as well as a pleasing view from the skywalk overhead. "That used to be one of the ugliest spots on campus," says Schmidt.

In the lower part of the buildings is an underground tunnel between the two buildings and a connection to the Forum building ballroom area, and laundries with cutting-edge efficiency washers and dryers as well as vending areas. Students can monitor which machines are currently open online from their rooms, and can even receive an email to alert them when their load is finished.

Sophomore Curtis Lillybridge, who lived in the remodeled Pierce Hall last year, said it was an enjoyable experience.

"I really like it," he said. "It's a lot better than before they remodeled it."

Lillybridge will be living in White Hall this year, and said he is looking forward to having a larger room and being closer to the gym. When he heard about the email monitoring system for washing machines, he responded enthusiastically.

"That really appeals to me," he said.

Lillybridge also appreciates the underground tunnel, which connects to the cafeteria and to the Forum, where the majority of his classes are. "I like that I don't have to go outside when it's cold."

Dijon DeLaPorte, director of residence life and housing, described the remodeled buildings as a "great addition to BVU's campus."

"They will help to meet the needs of students for years to come," he added.

Low debt levels and attractive interest rates made the timing ideal to move forward with the project, according to BVU President Fred Moore. "Market research shows that the number one reason potential new students reject a college is the condition of the residence halls, so we believe these improvements will have a positive impact on future enrollment," he said. Future plans call for continuing upgrades to the suites residential facilities in the northwest part of campus as well.

In keeping with their campaign for recycling, conservation and waste reduction, even the old furniture from Pierce White was given new life - over 600 desks, beds and dressers were donated to six non-profit organizations in Iowa. Recipients included the St. Mary's SOS Store and Upper Des Moines Opportunity in Storm Lake.

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