Lake Land College’s Luther Student Center creates new welcome center, unites student services, eases navigation
Luther Student Center additions and renovations at Lake Land College revive spaces ranging from Student Life/Activities and Career Services to Laker Nest Bookstore and Lake Land Police Department
“Where do I go?” New students and visitors often had trouble navigating Lake Land College’s campus in Mattoon, Illinois. There was no clearly defined entry, and student service functions were spread throughout the campus. The college was also dealing with overcrowding in student services offices and rising energy costs.
All these challenges are a thing of the past, thanks to the new Luther Student Center. The 19,000-square-foot addition and 26,000-square-foot renovation, designed by Legat Architects, create a new campus “front door” on the southwest side of campus and unite all student service functions.
Lake Land College President Dr. Josh Bullock said, “This state-of-the-art facility reflects our student-centered culture by creating a seamless experience for both current and prospective students. The thorough planning and physical space create a welcoming and engaging college environment.”
With many college services under one roof, students no longer need to go outside or trek to different parts of campus. Large new signs help point the way to specific offices. Rather than giving complicated instructions as they did before, staff can simply point to show students their destination. “You want to go right there.”
Emily Hartke, Lake Land College’s chair of counseling and judicial affairs advisement, said, “Relocating the majority of student services back to one building helps us connect new students with needed information and services more easily.”
Additionally, energy models performed by CCJM Engineering estimate that the project’s high-performance heating and cooling systems will reduce energy use by nearly 30% compared to a baseline system.
“One-stop” Hub Named After Respected Leader
The expansion and modernization, built by Grunloh Construction, create a 45,000-square-foot “one-stop” hub that centralizes the college’s student services. The campus police department and bookstore, formerly remote outposts, also move to the heart of the campus.
The rectangular addition, shown on the left side of the above plan, connects to the existing dining space. Most elements of the existing space, identified in the sting ray-shaped right part of the plan above, were moved and renovated.
The renewed Financial Aid and Veterans Services office, for instance, provides a much more open and inviting space for students. Director Paula Carpenter said, “We can now easily collaborate with other student services offices, the accounting office, and the bookstore to provide a seamless transition and excellent service to our students.”
“The college’s input drove the layout of key spaces,” said Legat’s Ryan VenHuizen. “Based on the charrettes, we located counseling, admissions, and student life spaces near the front door. Additionally, we placed the bookstore and food pantry in a location preferable for deliveries and positioned the police department close to squad car parking.”
The facility is named in honor of the college’s longest-serving president, Dr. Robert K. Luther, who served from 1988 to 2006. Dr. Luther also served as a trustee on the college board from 2011 to 2017. Bullock said, “He fostered a culture of innovation and student-centeredness, strengthened the college’s financial foundation, greatly enhanced the beautiful campus we have today, and brought national acclaim to our academic excellence.”
Construction of the Luther Student Center started in December 2018 and finished in December 2019.
Campus Beacon, Sound Window Strategy
A 17-foot canopy stretches over the Luther Student Center’s southwest-facing entry to create an easily identifiable campus beacon. Because the canopy has no visible supports, it appears to float.
VenHuizen said, “The design team wanted to provide a deep canopy, yet keep it as thin and sleek as possible. To that end, we had to think of clever ways to minimize the depth of the roof structure and construction to give the entry an appearance that is both elegant and welcoming.”
For the facade design, the team wanted to go beyond same-sized windows in a repetitive or random pattern. The resulting window sizing and placement, inspired by a longitudinal sound wave pattern, “creates a consistent and distinct rhythm that animates the facade,” said VenHuizen. Moreover, the roof was designed to support future solar panels; the college has already added 177 rooftop solar panels to provide 70 kW of power per day.
Students stepping into the Luther Student Center are greeted with a two-story open lobby space filled with natural light streaming through glass walls and clerestories (i.e., windows located high on the walls). The lobby offers an expanded student gathering space, a welcome desk, and connection to another highlight: a maple-covered tiered seating area and wall. The seating area, complete with built-in device-charging receptacles, encourages students to congregate.
“If you look close enough,” said interior designer Sylvia Kowalk, “you will see round shape accents in furniture and lights. This was a simple way of bringing the campus existing architectural language into this new facility.”
Along the central corridor, maple planks and aluminum signs with large letters draw attention to services such as Student Life/Activities, TRiO Student Support, Admissions and Records, Counseling Services, Career Services, and a new Transfer Center.
Even the student newspaper has what Valerie Lynch, director of student life at the time and now interim vice president for student services, calls “a beautiful office where they can brainstorm ideas on the whiteboard wall or switch on the projector to display drafts of the layout.”
“This state-of-the-art facility reflects our student-centered culture by creating a seamless experience for both current and prospective students.” – Dr. Josh Bullock, President, Lake Land College
The college and design team put a great deal of effort into developing the most logical layout. It paid off. One example is TRiO Student Support Services. Before the renovation, new students rarely stopped by—they could not find the offices or were not aware of the program.
TRiO Director Amber Niebrugge said that since completion of the addition, many more students have been stopping by to ask more about the program. “It creates a more welcoming environment for our current students,” she said. “They stop by and hang out in the main area of our office, interact with staff and other students, or use it as a spot to do homework.”
A Nest at Lake Land
For many years, the campus bookstore operated out of a run-down pole barn. The renovation brings the store new digs replete with a maple feature wall and signage. Best of all, students no longer have to travel across campus to start their book pickup process—the Laker Nest Bookstore is located within the Luther Student Center.
“The space has a much better layout and flow for book pickup and return,” said Amanda Arena, manager of bookstore and textbook rentals. “We can now showcase Laker gear in a much more shopper-friendly area.”
Arena added, “We’ve had a consistent flow of traffic. We’ve even been asked to open on a Sunday for an athletic event, which turned into a fabulous day for sales and our school community.”
The project also added a garage door to serve as a loading dock that leads to the back hallway of the store. This allows easy access for deliveries—especially larger pallet orders—to the new book storage area. That’s a big difference from before, when books were stored in shelving units in an unfinished section of the pole barn that served as the bookstore. The previous storage space was split between two areas of the store; the new storage area is large enough to house all the needed shelving units in the same space and has created a much more efficient work and storage area.
A New Home for the Police Department
The Luther Student Center relocates the Lake Land College Police Department to improve access and visibility, as well as enables officers to better monitor the campus.
Previously, the department operated out of a small house. It had no interview room and minimal equipment. The living room served as the main meeting area. Worst of all, the house was located on the very edge of campus grounds. Many students and even some staff members did not know where the police department was.
The administrative area renovation gives the department a new home amid other student services. The “storefront” setup allows students and staff to come to a window to get service. Unlike before, police offices are ADA accessible and designed for police functions.
Chief of Police Jeff Branson said, “Moving to the new location puts us in direct contact with the students and staff, which really didn’t happen at the old location.”
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