Courtesy Lehigh University website.

Possible renovations will close the University Center for two years


University officials and architects are working on a renovation of the University Center to provide more open spaces for increased student interaction and involvement.

The UC renovation is one of a series of potential changes to the university landscape. Titled the “Legacy Project,” architect Brent Stringfellow said the renovation is part of Lehigh’s master plan.

As the university architect, Stringfellow said he focuses on the university’s global vision. He said he is also responsible for setting the aesthetic and design standards for campus. 

Stringfellow said the Legacy Project is separate from Lehigh’s Path to Prominence expansion initiative, which will create new residence halls and other necessary changes for a growing campus.

With the different projects under consideration, Stringfellow said leadership has determined a three-phase plan for implementing changes to the campus.

The first phase is comprised of projects that are critical to the Path to Prominence plan including new residence halls, a new science and technology academic building, and renovations to Chandler-Ullmann Hall. The university will commit debt funding to complete the projects in the first phase.

The second phase also consists of critical projects but will be funded through philanthropic efforts. The UC falls in this phase, but the extent of its construction depends of the amount of philanthropy the university receives. The second phase also covers the potential renovations of Rauch Business Center and Fairchild-Martindale Library. The third phase includes projects that are important, but not critical, to the changing campus landscape.

While cosmetic renovations were made to the UC last summer, architects are studying more significant changes to the student center. Stringfellow said the potential changes to the UC would be more of a revitalization of the building that would involve a reconfiguration of the entire building.

Stringfellow said the goal is to maintain the original 1868 portion of the building. The 1958 edition of the building, including the kitchens and conference rooms, would then be torn down and replaced with a more contemporary addition.

This project is much bigger and more ambitious than last summer’s surface-level renovations, Stringfellow said, and would require the university to shut down the UC for two years and provide temporary options for dining and student organizations.

Stringfellow said renovating the UC would involve updating certain facilities. For example, he said the development team has considered changing the Asa Packer dining room to a special-events space that could cater dinners and house larger events. Additionally, he said alterations to open up the indoor spaces are also being considered.

“We are hoping to have more open and double-height spaces and more transparency so students enter and walk through,” Stringfellow said. “They are able to see people and what’s going on and really get a sense that the UC is a true intersection at the heart of campus.”

David Joseph, the executive director of Student Auxiliary Services, wrote in an email that the renovations will improve Lehigh’s dining services to provide a new “all-you-care-to-eat” student restaurant and a new retail food court. The all-you-care-to-eat option, Joseph wrote, could be a two-story eatery, similar to two-story restaurants that have been designed for other institutions such as Boston University and St. Peter’s University.

Joseph said Student Auxiliary Services is hoping to create new Upper Cort retail options such as Mediterranean, Indian and kosher concepts.

Renovating the UC is an ongoing and long-term project, but students and faculty agree that it is important because the UC is a critical part of Lehigh’s campus.  

Claire Herndon, ’18, works as a building adviser for Student Center Facilities. She said working in the UC has created a sense of community between her and her coworkers and that as a group, they hope to get more involved with other student organizations within the UC and on campus. 

The plans for renovating the UC are in the “pre-design study” phase of construction. The pre-design study is the conceptual phase in which architects and Lehigh’s campus planning and projects team analyze and gather information for the project.

“The information you are able to put together, in partnership with architectural teams, then allows you to make decisions about the projects,” Stringfellow said.

During the pre-design study, architects survey students to learn which design changes they would like to see. Stringfellow said the architecture firm working on the UC project completed a programming study last fall, surveyed students last spring and conducted student workshops this fall.

“Student input is really helpful because my role at the university is different from that of a student or faculty member, so it is important to capture everyone’s thoughts about the building,” Stringfellow said.

Sarah Segovia, ’17, participated in one of the focus groups. She said the students in the group discussed the creation of more open spaces in the UC, making rooms smaller and the possibility of adding a fire pit to the deck outside of Upper Cort.

If the project receives the approval of the trustees, the next step is the design phase. In the design phase, architects create a detailed design of the building. They make important decisions about the structure and appearance of the building. Stringfellow said they hope the project will move to the design phase in the next six months.

Once the design phase is completed, Stringfellow said the university gets a bid for construction, and with the approval of the trustees, begins the construction of the project.

Lehigh also brought in a team from Shepley Bulfinch, a Boston architecture firm, to work on the logistics and design of the renovations. Stringfellow said the architectural team has four or five main members, but that number will fluctuate as the project progresses. In addition to the main architects, the firm will bring in consultants to look at things like structural and lighting systems.

“Design comes to be a big exercise in a modern building because they are very complicated,” Stringfellow said.

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  1. Bad ideas all around. Make the UC a more modern building? Give me a break! Lehigh must learn to value its history.

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