Just as a college is more than its professors and textbooks, so too are its buildings more than just windows and walls. So when Bucks County Community College set out to design a building for its new Lower Bucks Campus, much thought went into both form and function.
The school addressed three major concerns while creating its wish list for the $10 million building: Going green; providing state-of-the art educational equipment; and overcoming the stereotypical portrayal of a community college – one in which students drive to class and then drive home as soon as classes are over. In addition, the school wanted to preserve the surrounding 14 acres of land, which includes the Del Haas Woods nature preserve.
A formal ribbon cutting for the new building is planned for Thursday, September 6, at 11 a.m. followed by a free community day celebration on Saturday, September 8, from noon to 4 p.m.
The first step for planning the new building, located on Veterans Highway near the Bucks County Office Center in Bristol Township, was to go through bids and plans to hire an architect. KCBA Architects, with offices in Hatfield and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was selected to design the 35,000-square-foot facility.
Eric Gianelle, a senior project manager at KCBA ( www.kcba-architects.com ), said BCCC’s vision was to create an energy efficient multifunctional two-story building. The new facility houses 12 classrooms, four computer labs, a biology lab, an allied health lab, prep areas for the labs, a library with a conference room, offices, an area for students and staff to purchase snacks, and an inviting student commons area.
Gianelle, a 1991 graduate of Syracuse University, joined KCBA shortly after it was awarded the contract. Gianelle, growing up in a household of engineers (his father and brothers), says, "they solve problems, so I wanted to create these ideas to have the engineers solve. I took a more creative approach."
As a senior project manager, Gianelle says his job is to bring everybody together. This includes interior designers, landscapers, plumbers, engineers, the firm’s architects, the college, and First Federal Bank of Bucks County. The bank purchased the land and subdivided the space for the school, with plans to put up its own building on the premises in the future.
The design process for the building started in 2004, and then an environmental study to monitor certain tree species was conducted over a one-year span. Construction began on May 1, 2006.
BCCC’s new building was to be – and is – a green facility. It wasn’t able to get an official stamp of approval from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) because of its allotted budget, but Gianelle says that he was able to add numerous environmentally-friendly features to the building. They include micro-filters and equipment to control air quality, louvered awnings above glazed glass windows to guard against the sun’s rays, and a computerized system to turn on and off lights and to provide heat and cool air based on classroom schedules.
There’s also a geothermal system, which uses the constant temperature of the ground several feet below to heat and cool the building. The system uses a fan, compressor, and pump to transfer heat to and from the earth. Geothermal is an expensive way to heat and cool in the short term, requiring a large up-front investment, including in this case, 70 wells placed under an open yard between the building and a nearby retention pond. But it is probably the single most important thing that can be done to reduce energy use.
Institutions that make that kind of investment "come across as more forward thinking," says Ganielle. "It’s not just the costs, but future savings." He points out that "the geothermal system is free air conditioning. All that’s needed (electronically) is fans to push the water. They’ll get a payback in seven to ten years." The computerized system will also allow the school to cut its electricity bill.
In addition, the school’s water bill will be cut because it chose to go with waterless urinals in the men’s rooms, which will save about a gallon of water per flush – or 45,000 gallons of water a year, per urinal. The technology behind the urinals involves an EcoTrap drain ( www.waterless.com ), beyond which reservoirs of BlueSeal liquid continually circulate, mixing with urine, and removing odors. When the reservoirs overflow, excess urine goes down a conventional drain. The odorless system, ideal for high-traffic areas, is being used at Liberty Island and at the Jimmy Carter Library.
While money was spent to conserve both energy and money down the road, KCBA was also able to save BCCC some money by using an existing parking lot, which was in place when the Del Haas High School occupied the space.
Some of the new college building’s stylish features, Gianelle says, include situating the building to overlook the conservatory instead of the parking lot. This part of the L-shaped brick building is mostly glass. The two-story student commons area with a fireplace also overlooks the nature preserve.
As for new technology: All of the classrooms have whiteboards, Smartboard technology, an LCD ceiling mounted projector, and a personal computer and DVD player for the instructor’s lesson plans. There is also wireless Internet access throughout the building. School officials say the additional space, labs, and technology has allowed the new campus to more than double its course offerings and more than triple its student enrollment.
The building was completed just in time for the fall semester, which starts on Wednesday, August 29. But this is just phase one of the project. Bucks County Community College’s president, James Linksz, says the college always planned on constructing the building in two phases, with the second phase to be completed in a few years, but after realizing the growth projection for Lower Bucks, the school moved up those plans so that the addition to the building will be completed by November, 2007, in time for the spring 2008 semester.
The second phase, at an additional cost of $5.5 million, will add an additional 20,000-square-feet to the existing building. The space will be used for nine additional classrooms, two additional computer labs, a bookstore, a cafe area, a catering area, additional offices, an area for student clubs to meet, and a student services area, which will include career counseling.
Prior to the completion of the new campus, students were attending classes next door at the Bristol Center in the Bucks County Office Center. The school had leased this space since 1989. Bucks County Community College also has campuses in Upper Bucks and Newtown. Jean Dolan, assistant director of public relations for the college, says that "Lower Bucks is the first campus the school has built from the ground up since 1964 when the college was formed in Newtown."
Linksz says funding for the new campus was provided by both the state and county. The school also used some of the $800,000 raised from private industry, with the remainder going towards an endowment fund.
New Jersey community colleges, many founded some 40 years ago, are confronting the issue of aging buildings. When Patricia Donohue took over as Mercer County Community College’s president just one year ago, she named that issue as her number one concern. In designing a student friendly, technologically advanced, green building for its new campus – and doing so on a budget – Bucks County Community College may be providing a prototype for future educational buildings, and building renovations, in the greater Mercer and Bucks county area.