Miami U student center expanding anew

Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-06 06:00:07-05

OXFORD, Ohio -- Work began this week on the second phase of Miami University’s new student center.

Crews from Messer Construction Co. broke ground Monday on the $23.6 million East Wing, which will conclude the school’s Armstrong Student Center project, said John Seibert, Miami’s director of planning, architecture and engineering.

The first phase, which repurposed the school’s former Rowan and Gaskill halls and is 170,000 square feet, opened in January of 2014 and cost $50 million to complete.

The second phase, which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2017, will focus on the conversion of Miami’s former Culler Hall – a building that has been used as a swing space while renovations have been completed on other buildings – and its attachment to the first phase of the student center, Seibert said. It’s forecast to be 67,000 square feet.

Matt Schnelle, Messer senior project executive, said a two-story atrium to connect Culler Hall to the first phase of the Armstrong Student Center should be finished in the fall. He said the renovation of the hall likely would be completed next winter or spring.

When plans were originally in the works on the new student center, the thought was to tear down Rowan, Gaskill and Culler halls altogether and build a completely new structure, said Susie Sadler, Miami’s senior director of development for academic programs and the Armstrong Student Center, but the expense was going to cost more than $100 million.

“We realized that if we kept the three buildings and repurposed them instead, we would be able to reduce the costs by about 40 percent and we’d be able to start right away and do 70 percent of the project,” she said.

The East Wing is a continuation of the original project, Sadler said. “I think there is a lot of confusion out there on this. I think people think we’ve already outgrown the new student center and have to add on to it, but that’s not the case at all.”

Fifty percent of the funding for the second phase is coming from donors and 50 percent is coming from a student fee already in place, Seibert said. BHDP Architecture is the architect of record on the project.

Once open, the East Wing will house seven large meeting-space rooms and Miami’s career services office, which is currently on the western side of campus, Sadler said.

Moving the career services office to the heart of campus is a physical translation of the front seat Miami has given to the department in recent years, she said.

“We now involve students with career services on day one,” Sadler said. “Currently, the office is a good bit of a walk for students. The student center is literally in the middle of the campus. Having the career services office at the Armstrong Student Center will put a spotlight on their offerings and really make it easy for students to get over there.”

The first phase of the student center is home to meeting rooms and offices, a multi-purpose pavilion space, a 500-seat theater, and the Center for Student Engagement and Leadership, which is the hub of Miami’s more than 400 student organizations.

Work had to wait on the second phase of the Armstrong Student Center, Seibert said, because the building targeted to be repurposed – the former Culler Hall – was being used to temporarily house Miami’s geology, geography and environment earth science departments while renovation work was completed on Shideler Hall, which is two buildings down from the student center on Spring Street. That work wrapped up and Shideler reopened at the beginning of January, in time for Miami’s spring semester.

It’s all part of a larger plan to revitalize Spring Street, Seibert said.

“Spring Street is really the academic core of campus,” he said. “The idea is that we want to be sure all of our student services of support are in the core so if kids come to the heart of campus, they have all of those offerings to help them.”

Shriver Center, the former student center, which was designed and built in 1957 to accommodate 7,000 students (current enrollment is roughly 18,000), is located across the street from Shideler and the Armstrong Student Center, Seibert said, and now has some vacant space as student services have been moved to the new student center. Shriver now is being repurposed to include some of the additional student services that aren’t in the new student center, such as the bookstore, tutoring center and disability resources office.

That work is expected to be completed by this December.

Miami University’s Armstrong Student Center Board, which oversees the policies, practices, programming and services of the Armstrong Student Center, is hosting a construction kickoff event at the student center on Thursday, Feb. 18, at 4:30 p.m. Attendees can learn more about the construction timeline and see blown-up blueprints of what the East Wing will look like when it’s finished.