Welcome Space – Alumni Center

The Register-Guard – June 10, 2011 – By Greg Bolt –

A new UO building, set for a grand opening today, was designed to greet campus visitors.

The University of Oregon puts out a new welcome mat today with the grand opening of its Ford Alumni Center.

The $33.5 million building gives the university a long-sought reception center for visitors to campus as well as offering a high-tech nest for returning members of the Duck flock. At four stories and 60,000 square feet, the center completes a makeover of the east entrance to campus along with the neighboring Matthew Knight Arena and Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes.

“This is a building really meant for any person who has a reason to come to the University of Oregon,” communications director Phil Weiler said. “This is where you’re welcome. This is where you can start your adventure on campus.”

An opening reception and ribbon cutting will be held this morning. Among those attending will be the building’s lead donors, Cheryl Ramberg Ford and Allyn Ford of Roseburg, for whom the building is named.

The alumni center will serve two main purposes. It will provide office space for the UO’s broad outreach programs — the UO Alumni Association, UO Foundation, university fundraising and student orientation — and meeting and event space for visitors, alumni and prospective students and their families.

Inside, the building makes generous use of wood, especially in the first-floor reception and interpretive areas. A full-height atrium bisects the building and helps bring daylight to every room.

Among its more innovative features are the interpretive center’s “media cascades,” floor-to-ceiling panels that contain interactive video screens on one side. The six moveable, touch-sensitive panels allow visitors to view maps of campus, learn some UO history, check out university statistics or scan the stories of more than 75 UO alumni.

There’s also three “artifact cascades,” panels that instead of moving pictures house physical items from the UO’s history, such as Bill Bowerman’s waffle iron and a manuscript from Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

A tabletop “media stream” contains a database with the names of all UO alumni, who can look up their name and classmates using the touch-sensitive screen. Alumni names also are continuously flashed on a data wall near the building’s entry.

Weiler said the high-tech features and other design elements are meant to evoke the themes of water, trees and sunlight that run throughout the building. Much of the woodwork comes from reclaimed lumber or from trees that grew on campus before being toppled, including a red oak that wrecked the car of UO Provost Jim Bean when it fell during a storm two years ago.

Small glass globes, lit from within by fiber optic lines, hang from the atrium ceiling like imitation raindrops. And the media stream displays an image like moving water that churns when a finger is placed on the screen, as if a rock had been placed in the stream.

A main feature is the 300-person grand ballroom, named for Lee Barlow Guistina in thanks for a gift from the Guistina family. The multipurpose room is surrounded by ceiling-height windows and wood paneling and includes a complete audio-visual system. Moveable panels allow it to open onto the atrium while other doors open to an outdoor patio and lawn.

The building also includes many energy-saving features that are expected to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold rating and, Weiler said, possibly come close to a platinum rating. Those include a heat-reflecting roof, a rain garden that captures runoff, a heated concrete floor, lighting and window shades that respond automatically to changes in sunlight, and mesh shades outside windows to allow light in but keep the interior from overheating.

The UO has had an alumni center on its wish list for more than 20 years and is the last of the Pac-10 schools to get one. But Weiler said that allowed the university to study what others have done.

“We were late to the party,” he said. “But being the last one really gave us a chance to see what works and what doesn’t.”

The building’s interior spaces were designed by Opsis Architecture of Portland. The exterior was designed by Portland’s TVA Architects, the design firm for the Knight Arena. The general contractor was Fortis Construction of Lake Oswego; the interpretive center displays were designed by Second Story of Portland.

Three Oregon artists — Lucinda Parker, Rick Bartow and Tallmadge Doyle — created artwork for the center.

Private gifts provided $23.5 million of the total funding, with $10 million in state-backed bonds providing the rest. Revenue from office and event space rent will be used to pay off the bonds.

The building will be used for a variety of campus meetings and events and also can be rented by community groups. It will be the main gathering place for prospective students and their parents who come to tour campus.

Weiler said the university wants to emphasize that the center is open to the entire community and also wants to advertise it to travelers passing through Eugene. Although it’s called an alumni center, he said the doors are open to everyone.

“This is a welcome center,” he said. “We have never really had anything like that. This is space we’ve needed for a very, very long time.”

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