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Economic downturns are never a good thing, but they do have a way of breathing life into community colleges as people return to school to seek additional training and job skills. For Central Oregon Community College, located in Bend, Ore., the Great Recession did just that, rapidly increasing its enrollment and placing added demand on its academic programs.
Working in conjunction with Portland-based Yost Grube Hall Architecture, college administrators proposed an ambitious expansion plan for the campus, eventually including three new facilities. The Jungers Culinary Center, a stand-alone, 15,000-square-foot building was the first of the three to be completed, opening to students in the fall of 2011. The Health Careers Building and Science Center, both 45,000 square feet, opened in the fall of 2012.
The primary goal for the design team from Yost Grube Hall was to unify the three buildings amongst themselves and with the campus as a whole, while also giving each facility its own distinct identity. According to Principal Mark Stoller, it was a challenge uniquely suited to his firm’s preferred way of working. “We look for a natural relationship and relationships within the building,” he says. “We think holistically and get input from the users on how they work together, and how we can support that with the organization of the building and the architecture.”
The smaller culinary building sits on the edge of COCC’s campus, where it will be “the anchor for a small joint venture with a local developer and a commercial development,” says Stoller. “It’s in an intimate setting by itself, nestled in trees. We called it the cabin in the woods. It has its very own character.”
The Health Careers Building and Science Center have been built on the main campus, which was originally developed on a steep hillside. (“Most of the buildings are small in footprint because of this,” Stoller notes.) The three-story Health Careers Building houses massage therapy and dental spaces on the ground floor to accommodate public clinics. The second floor contains general-purpose classrooms and medical assist spaces. Nursing fills the top floor. The two-story Science Building houses biology classrooms on the ground level and chemistry and physics labs upstairs.
“In the end, we had three different buildings, all different in scale, but they all carry a similar aesthetic theme on the campus from about 30 or 35 years ago, which is the use of wood. We primarily used cedar, which is what they have in central Oregon, and concrete—very natural materials,” Stoller says.
The widespread use of natural materials tied into the administration’s desires to pursue sustainable certification. But instead of going LEED, the school chose to participate in a Portland-based program called Earth Advantage, which is already well-known in the state for its work in residential sustainability.
According to Stoller, Earth Advantage places an emphasis on energy usage, so the design of the building envelopes, electrical systems and lighting were crucial to achieving certification under the organization’s pilot commercial program. But that also presented challenges for designers hoping to maximize the school’s westward view of the Cascade Mountains. “Ideally, you want to face south because it’s easier to control the sun,” Stoller says. “East or west is more of a challenge, because the sun comes in at a much lower angle on the west late in the day.”
As a result, the design team specified high-performance glazing for the buildings to control UV rays, which helped the project gain Earth Advantage Gold certification in the process. “This glazing is quite expensive, so there is a commitment, but once you’re inside the buildings, the views are just incredible. We thought it was unique to the campus to have the ability to open up the buildings and take advantage of the view. We were very cognizant of how to capture the opportunity.”
Inside the buildings, the design team incorporated flexible instructional and multi-purpose spaces to mesh with COCC’s concept of student-centered learning, which encourages students to break into small groups for self-teaching and study. That meant creating slightly larger general purpose classrooms, so that faculty can teach in both traditional lecture modes and informal collaborative sessions. Furnishings have been specified for mobility and wall surfaces have been opened up as much as possible to accommodate more whiteboards. Classrooms have gone from 23 square feet per student up to 28.