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Student Center Charts Path to Academic Success

Aerial view rendering of new Student Success and Retention Center
The project includes an informal quadrangle to be shared with a new library and a new student center, creating a new central gathering place for students. © HGA Architects and Engineers

East Los Angeles College has begun work on a flexible new Student Success and Retention Center, a key element in a dramatic transformation of the growing campus.

April 16, 2013—On the campus of East Los Angeles College (ELAC), construction is under way on the new Student Success and Retention Center, a $57.8-million project that will play a critical role in the college’s future. ELAC draws a high percentage of its more than 22,000 students from underperforming high schools, and the center will help students develop and bolster key language and study skills to succeed in college.

The new five-story building, scheduled for completion in October 2014, will bring together nine different departments on the upper three floors, the bottom two floors dedicated to the college’s success centers: labs, workshops, and tutoring spaces.

The college has been undergoing a metamorphosis in recent years, demolishing outdated bungalow classrooms and building in their place modern structures to accommodate the institution’s dramatic growth. The success center will share a large outdoor plaza with a recently completed library and a new student center, creating an informal quadrangle for the campus.

“This building is literally in the heart of the campus. At the intersection of the three buildings, there is a main plaza that is a central gathering spot. They didn’t have a place like this before,” says James Matson, AIA, an architect with HGA Architects and Engineers in Los Angeles, which teamed with Pinner Construction, Anaheim, California, to win the design/build competition.

Although the plaza was not part of the design completion requirements established by the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), HGA added it as an alternate to their winning bid and was able to include it in the project within the LACCD’s original budget guidelines.

“This is really completing the heart of the campus and pulling classrooms and success centers in as a focal element of the whole campus,” Matson says.

The project includes an impressive list of sustainability features, and was designed to synergize with other sustainability features on campus—photovoltaic (PV) panels and central plant supplying hot and cold water to the structure—to strive to attain a goal of net zero energy.

“We have a holistic approach to sustainability,” Matson explains. The building is divided into classroom and office wings, with central courtyard elements in both. “On the top three floors of the building on the classroom side, there is a three-story open-air courtyard. Open to the sky, but shaded by panels. It allows every classroom to have daylight on two sides, natural cross ventilation, and [a] relationship to the courtyard which—since it is open—gives a strong visual connection between the different levels.” 

Exterior rendering of building which displays steel shades

The building employs steel shades to reduce solar gain and open
spaces and operable windows to maximize natural cross
ventilation. © HGA Architects and Engineers

The classroom wing also features a three-story atrium, but in this case, the space is enclosed by a large skylight. The wing pairs exhaust fans with operable windows and a sophisticated building management system to create natural cross ventilation in the enclosed space, according to Matson.

Although geotechnical conditions at the site are favorable, the 2.8 acre site is extremely tight and slopes at a rate greater than 5 percent, the maximum allowable by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This created civil engineering challenges, according to John Cruikshank, P.E., M.ASCE, the president of JMC2, in San Pedro, California, but he adds, “The biggest challenge is that there are utility corridors running along the east and west edges of our site. When I say utility corridors, I mean everything—dry and wet utilities.

“It is a very, very tight site,” Cruikshank says. “You have roughly 40 feet or 50 feet between buildings. And there are narrow corridors of pedestrian and vehicular access points.”

Cruikshank says the team used the GEOPAK Civil Engineering Suite by Bentley, in Exton, Pennsylvania, to perform the complex modeling required for the project. In addition to the utility corridors on either side of the project, the site and the plaza had to be carefully graded to meet the ADA requirements. All of these issues were made more complex because the site was evolving as the library and student center projects progressed.

“The other two buildings were already in design or under construction,” Cruikshank says. “We were able to get their latest drawings—even during construction—so when things slightly changed, we were able to tweak our drawings to get them to work with what we were going to find when we eventually started our construction.”

“The site basically slopes [down] from the north to the south. Maintaining open sidewalks that are [at] five percent grades without railings was a challenge,” Cruikshank says. “We actually had to develop some areas where a sidewalk and a ramp were right next to each other.”

Cruikshank says the computer models gave the team sophisticated representations of the grading at the site, with different levels of grading demarcated clearly by different colors. “It’s a good way to visualize and check your work prior to going out to construction,” he adds. “When you flatten out one area, it makes another area steeper. So that was a challenge.”

Another challenge was siting one of the sustainability features—a rainwater collection tank that is 21.3 ft wide, 63 ft long, and 5.7 ft deep. Rain is channeled into the tank and then pumped out to supply water to a subsurface irrigation system.

“We are able to reuse the water we get,” Cruikshank says. “It’s not a lot of water in comparison to how much water you need, but we found some nice smaller areas of landscaping and we are using that water for subsurface irrigation.”

The building employs a two-way flat slab system with shear drop panels at the columns, Matson says. This minimized the number of beams that were required, which are found primarily around large floor openings.

“We used concrete shear walls in both directions and a lateral load resisting system,” Matson says. “Spread footings [handle] the gravity loads. For sustainability, we have a concrete mix design that uses fly ash.”

On the exterior, a steel structure supporting angled panels shade portions of the building, courtyards, and mechanical systems, minimizing solar gain. The shades were originally envisioned as an installation of PV panels. But the campus is already approaching a limit of one megawatt of electricity generation via PV panels on large carport structures in some of the parking areas. Instead, the team used perforated steel.

Interior rendering displaying one of six flexible classrooms, which features tablet chairs on casters and multiple projection screens

Six flexible classrooms will feature tablet chairs on casters and
multiple projection screens to facilitate rapid changes from lecture
to small group learning configurations. © HGA Architects
and Engineers

The team used a building information model (BIM) for wind and daylighting studies to fine-tune some of sustainability features. LACCD wants to embed an owner’s manual and user’s manual for the building into the BIM and then provide it to the facilities department to aid in the future operation of the structure, Matson says.

The project is already drawing the attention of the college’s faculty, interested in six state-of-the-art flexible classrooms. The team built a mock-up of one of the classrooms in another building and professors are seeking to use it already.

“The faculty got very excited about them,” Matson says. “Using moveable furniture, an instructor can modify the classroom arrangement from lecture-based learning, where everyone is facing the front of the room in rows of chairs, to group problem-based learning.”

The flexible classrooms feature tablet chairs on casters and three large projectors and screens, enabling students to connect their laptop computers into the system to display their work. “They are all interconnected,” Matson says, “so if the instructor wants to pull up one of their solutions and show the whole class, that’s possible. It’s a very flexible system.”

That flexibility continues on the building’s exterior, where the design team has included wind shades and radiant heat in the floors to create outdoor study spaces on balconies. Together with the plaza, the new area presents an inviting environment for students.

“There are a lot of collaboration spaces in this project,” Matson says. “Between classes, or before classes, or after classes, there are places where students can meet. Or they can plug in a laptop outside or inside in a special room where they can work in small groups or work on their own. The college was very receptive to this because it helps with student retention. It takes learning beyond the classroom door, so there are opportunities to learn throughout the day.”



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