Southwestern Community College on Course for New Design Standards
While companies around the U.S. have been exploring ways to entice workers back to the office, college administrations have been engaged in similar efforts:
They want to encourage students to return to campuses by making their facilities as appealing as possible. Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista, California, offers a great model to follow. Thanks to an ambitious facilities program, the campus now houses new, environmentally friendly buildings with a variety of amenities that support both learning and fun. A Syska Hennessy team, which was hired by Gensler to design systems for several of the buildings, told us more about the innovations that make both the amenities and green standards possible.
“Most people don’t know what a data center looks like. Southwestern is effectively giving students an inside view from the outside.”
The First Project – a Data Center
Syska’s first project for Southwestern, completed in 2022, was a 16,000-square-foot IT building containing a data center. But it isn’t your typical data center. This one has a server room surrounded by glass walls so that students, visitors, and staff can see the full set-up. “Most people don’t know what a data center looks like,” says Carlo Rivera, a Syska mechanical engineer who worked on the project. “Southwestern is effectively giving students an inside view from the outside.”
What onlookers don’t see are the complex systems that provide full backup power and full redundancy and contribute to net-zero energy consumption. To promote decarbonization, Syska conducted energy modeling, designed a PV system for the roof, and incorporated structural shading elements into the design. “The project shows students that green buildings are possible, even in situations where extensive power is required,” notes Carlo.
The IT building was such a successful endeavor that Gensler decided to hire Syska for two more projects on the campus: a new student union and an instructional complex, both of which are currently under construction. Eric Rochelson, a Syska associate partner and specialist in information and communications technology (ICT), says the IT building became a de facto standard for most of the other buildings on campus. The team followed the same template in engineering the student union and the instructional complex, but with some minor adjustments to support specific teaching styles, pedagogy, and distance learning. “Our approach to the ICT for Southwestern underpins a mix of in-person and hybrid connectivity,” Eric explains.
“Each project builds upon the core values of resilience, student engagement and inclusivity established as core values in the 2018 Facility Master Plan...”
The Instructional Complex
The instructional complex, which contains 110,000 square feet, includes classrooms and an unusual feature -- a planetarium. According to Daniel Gittings, a Syska mechanical engineer, the team used different techniques to promote comfort and energy efficiency in each area. “For the classrooms, we took advantage of the favorable climate,” he reports. “In each classroom, you can turn off the cooling coils and just use the fan when the weather is good, which it usually is. The fresh air increases productivity since it reduces Co2 levels in the space.”
The planetarium, in contrast, has its own air-handling unit for cooling, combined with underfloor air distribution. “We’re returning the air before it gets to the screen so that the screen doesn’t serve as a filter and get dirty,” Daniel says. “That’s how we’ll keep occupants comfortable without affecting the viewing experience.”
“The success of these projects will engage students to find reward in learning, establish life-long connections that will lead to long-term friendships, and instill a sense of pride and identity that will be celebrated for the impact and uniqueness it contributes to society."
The Student Union and More
Gensler describes the student union as “the heart of the school campus,” intended to “provide students and faculty with a new space to engage, interact, and socialize.” The 85,000-square-foot, two-story building offers something for everyone. It includes a cafeteria, ballroom, bookstore, outdoor eating areas, and spaces for personal wellness and the culinary arts program.
“Each project builds upon the core values of resilience, student engagement and inclusivity established as core values in the 2018 Facility Master Plan,” notes Richard King, principal at Gensler. “The success of these projects will engage students to find reward in learning, establish life-long connections that will lead to long-term friendships, and instill a sense of pride and identity that will be celebrated for the impact and uniqueness it contributes to society. As a collection of projects, the campus will be transformed with academic, social and student athletic projects that complete the campus experience to better prepare graduates to seek out opportunities and navigate global challenges.”
“We enjoyed working on systems that support placemaking, helping Gensler and Southwestern create a more welcoming and environmentally friendly campus,” says Sean Marcel, principal in charge. “But perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the project was collaborating with Southwestern to update and revise its standards – a service that was an outgrowth of our initial work.” Eric adds that the standards established in the IT building were incorporated into the design of the student union and educational complex, and that they will be incorporated into any future projects.
"As a collection of projects, the campus will be transformed with academic, social and student athletic projects that complete the campus experience to better prepare graduates to seek out opportunities and navigate global challenges.”
“We appreciated the opportunity to become a trusted advisor on standards and specifications,” Eric remarks. “That’s what consulting engineering is all about.”
Photo Credit: IT Building – Dave Pinto / Instructional – Gensler