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East Carolina University Health Sciences Campus Student Center

Project Name: East Carolina University Health Sciences Campus Student Center

Project Team:
Owner: East Carolina University
Architect: MHAworks, PA
Contractor: Rodgers Builders
Architectural Consultant: Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture
Engineering Consultant: RDK Engineers
Structural Consultant: Stroud Pence & Associates, Ltd.
Site/Civil Consultant: Stewart, Inc.
Commissioning Consultant: AEI Affiliated Engineers 

Project Size: 76,000 sf

Project Status: Completed: April, 2017

Project Location: Greenville, NC 

Project Narrative:
Each building on East Carolina University’s (ECU) Health Sciences Campus (HSC) was effectively an island, a collection of facilities focused primarily on addressing the needs of isolated professional disciplines. The new Student Center serves as the first building on the HSC to break this mold, creating a place for shared amenities to engender a sense of ownership from students and faculty from every discipline. This project boldly reflects the established character of the burgeoning campus with a trajectory focused on a progressive collaborative future.

At the commencement of the 2017 Spring Semester, ECU opened its new, architecturally and sustainably innovative, Student Center located at the heart of the Health Sciences Campus. The central location of the Student Center allows for access among the multiple disciplines found across the adjacent academic buildings, offering both a real and symbolic gathering space for students, services, and activities. The two-story, 76,000 square-foot Student Center contains recreation facilities, spaces for student organizations, multiple venues for learning, large meeting/banquet room, a Starbucks and two other food/beverage options, administrative spaces, offices for parking and one-card services, computer repair, public safety, a convenience store, and a second location for university health services.  All of the primary functions needed by students are now housed on both the Health Sciences Campus as well as on ECU’s main campus. The building serves as a focal point for the diverse student body, totaling around 3,000 on this western campus.

Supplying natural light and inviting spaces was a key consideration to the interior design of the building’s multiple programs. Inside the Student Center, direct light from windows and skylights provide high quality, balanced, saturated light with low glare. The majority of all interior spaces, including circulation, have views to the outside and large spanning windows to provide natural light deep into the floor plans. The three building entrances allow for access from all directions on the Campus, drawing visitors into and through the building, while creating visual connections and an inviting open area for lingering and interacting. Each entry is a welcoming, two-story high porch that offers shade and cover from the elements, while providing architectural focal points as visitors approach the structure. Of all the architectural features that will comprise the new Student Services Center, the Beacon serves as the anchor of the building. Designed as a five-sided lantern with soaring three-story high precast concrete-faced columns and supporting a deeply pitched standing seam roofing system, the sides of this area of the building are glazed with clear panels.

The newly completed Health Sciences Campus Student Center is a place where medical professionals and future medical professionals can meet in a variety of collaborative environments. The Campus Recreation and Wellness Division of the new Student Center opened their doors on May 1, 2017, and since have increased their student recreation participation by 155%. During the first five months, ECU students, faculty, alumni, and adjacent medical campus staff composed over 36,000 individuals that utilized the new Fitness and Recreation Center. Currently, the Center averages roughly 2,000 users weekly.

While approximately half the building program is geared towards fitness, the entire project has the goal of promoting active design. The fitness center aspect of the building’s programming includes a two-court gymnasium, weight and cardio space, group fitness class space, and full locker rooms. The site design functions to support and enhance the building programming with exterior spaces created to promote outside dining, study, and exercise opportunities. The site plan seeks to promote physical activity and health as an integral aspect of the project, following the principles of ‘Active Design’. The Design Team referred to the University’s planning documents to assure that the building and site reflect ECU’s character while embracing the Health Sciences Campus vision to promote the values of health, fitness, and technological advancement. The prominent location of the building at the center of the campus creates a space that is inviting to all students and fosters impromptu interactions among faculty and students alike. It has direct access to North Emergency Drive and Facilities Drive. One of the main goals for the new Student Services Center will be to provide clear pedestrian access from all buildings on campus, as no additional student parking was provided as part of this project’s scope. The Student Center provides a bus parking and passenger drop-off area to the east of the building, off North Emergency Drive, as well as numerous bicycle racks and bicycle service stations. This designed interaction with pedestrians and cyclists promotes physical activity from the outside in.

The University expressed an interest in the building’s versatility; resulting in many spaces being designed not only for their primary purpose, but also with job fairs, medical conferences, departmental commencement ceremonies, etc. in mind. Additionally, commensurate with growing the visible aspects of the ECU HSC student experience is the need to maintain critical utility redundancies and campus growth capacities. The design team worked with the university to expand their Central Utility Plant so that it may continue to serve the campus for years to come. With the aim of LEED Silver certification, multiple sustainable measures were utilized for this project, including minimal site disturbance and storm water design, reducing potable water use building wide, identifying sustainable, local, and renewable building materials, minimizing light pollution, and providing occupants with spaces that include natural light, exterior views, and enhanced thermal comfort. Overall, the thoughtful integration of these sustainable strategies throughout the building will serve to educate and inspire occupants while also providing measurable energy, resource, and cost savings.