Mike Brown and his wife, Nancy, have literally helped build a new university with their generosity.
Less than three months after the Sara & Michael Abraham Campus Center opened its doors, the three-story, 40,000-square-foot center quickly fulfilled its intended purpose.
How did we ever get along without it?
Less than three months after the Sara & Michael Abraham Campus Center opened its doors to University of La Verne students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors, that seemed to be the burning question.
It started once the 2009-10 school year began, and the three-story, 40,000-square-foot center quickly fulfilled its intended purpose.
“I always knew it would change the culture of life on campus, but I had no idea it would have this much impact,” said Chip West, Executive Director of the Campus Center and Capital Planning. “It has changed student life completely. The game rooms are packed late into the evenings. There were fires today locally, and there were about 40 students watching the TV news in there. Barbara’s Place is always busy. The lounges are always full. I came downstairs the other day and every single chair had someone in it. The building has exceeded all of my expectations.”
A record Homecoming turnout in early November was largely attributed to the spectacle of this, the first new building on campus in more than 10 years. A Friday night La Verne College reunion was held in the Ludwick Conference Center on the top floor. Saturday’s Homecoming picnic was moved to C Street, in the shadow of the new building. All the while, students kept the center buzzing, playing billiards or video games, watching TV, eating and socializing in the café, and working in Student Government offices.
No more sleepy little campus.
“When it got so loud that I had to yell, I realized that people knew it was the place to be,” said Jennifer Baca, a La Verne student who began working behind the lobby counter once the building opened in late summer. “I think it has livened up the campus. There’s more interaction between students and it’s nice to feel that there’s something new. I worked here during the summer, and it’s been busy from the first day of school. There’s a lot of flow through here, this particular area on the first floor. So far, this building is doing the job it was created to do.”
Michael Abraham was still relatively new to the university’s Board of Trustees when he inspired creation of the Campus Center. The La Verne campus greatly reminded Abraham of his days as a student at UC Santa Barbara. He said he sensed the campus needed a student center and in 2003 he issued “The Abraham Challenge.” If the Board members could raise the first $4 million, he would match that amount in the interest of building a Campus Center.
“When we decided to build the Campus Center, I believe we started out with an estimated cost of $12 million,” university president Steve Morgan said. “Obviously, over time, that escalated, for a variety of reasons. As the campaign moved along, we had the Abraham Challenge, which was a real motivator, but the cause was right and the timing was right. We were at the height of the economy. Timing is everything. I have to say it was dumb luck, but we did hit it at the peak. We hit it when people had resources, when the economy was on an upward trajectory and that’s the time people invest, and we were lucky. Then, we got lucky with construction because by then, building had dropped off and costs dropped off. We built the building on schedule and on budget, I think partly as a result of that, so the timing couldn’t have been better for this.”
The Campus Center was designed by Gonzalez Goodale Architects of Pasadena. After an intense study of the site, Armando Gonzalez and David Goodale came up with plans for a building with expansive window walls that would let in the maximum amount of natural light and provide spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains to the north. Inside, the feeling would be open and airy, with an emphasis on mixing space for students, faculty — whoever stopped by. There were lots of opinions about how the interior space would be used. How much would be dedicated for offices? How many classrooms? How much space for TV watching, billiards, video games and other lounging opportunities for students? Somewhere along the way, the Abraham Campus Center became all things to all people.
“The most important feature of this building is that, for the first time since the days of the Lordsburg Hotel, students have one place, under one roof, to take care of all of their needs,” ASULV president Chris Kaelberer said at the September 10 Grand Opening Celebration.
The first floor was dedicated primarily to the students: game and lounging area, offices for student government and student affairs, a café named Barbara’s Place, after Barbara Harris, the wife of longtime Board chair Benjamin Harris. The first floor gets the most traffic.
“Steve Morgan has called it the new “living room” of the campus and it really is,” West said. “I think it’s the living room, the family room and the kitchen. It has fulfilled all of the parts our campus needed. That saying, ‘If you build it, they will come?’… well, we built it and they have come. It has enhanced all of our programs for student activities. Like, when we’d show movies in the past, we were lucky if 20 showed up. We got more than 100 for the last movie. We’re having an X-Box tournament this weekend and there are already about 40 signed up for that.”
A calmer tone greets second floor visitors. The Office of Admissions is there, along with other faculty and student adviser offices, including the Career Center. There are also classrooms, which have addressed a pressing need to alleviate a shortage in class meeting space elsewhere on campus. The Rothweiler Family Mezzanine overlooks the lobby and provides the first views of the mountains.
On the third floor, the Ludwick Conference Center is a versatile and spacious meeting place, suitable for the hosting of luncheons and dinners, as well as seminars, lectures, symposiums, job fairs, wedding receptions and film presentations. Previously, the university paid to hold such events in local hotel and convention center ballrooms.
Also on the third floor, out the west door to the Gayle & Tad Lowery Veranda, is the GreenGrid Roof, a collection of 87 low-profile plants that helps the new building reduce its average daily energy demand for cooling. It’s one of the sustainability considerations that went into the building, which earned a LEED Silver rating. LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system designed to promote design and construction practices that increase profitability while reducing the negative environmental impacts of buildings and improving occupant health and well-being. Such practices drew praise from local leaders at the Campus Center Grand Opening.
“The University of La Verne has been loved and attended by students worldwide and the university just got better – a lot better,” La Verne mayor Don Kendrick said to an audience of hundreds on Sept. 10. “This university has always strived to be an environmental leader in the City of La Verne, and this green building shows that leadership.”
In addition to traditional-age undergraduate students, the Sara & Michael Abraham Campus Center has also been embraced by commuter students and night students, who often have a little time on their hands before or after classes and previously had little choice but to sit in their cars.
“It’s been very successful and we’re finding new possibilities every day,” said Doug Waite, manager of Student Life Services, who has one of the new, first floor offices. “We’ve had lots of comments from commuter students and adjunct faculty, about how nice it is to have a place to spend time during the day. It’s such an enjoyable place to come to and it’s a pleasure to walk in every morning. It’s good to have a building that’s finally meeting some long overdue needs.”
Mostly, the Campus Center — the centerpiece of the university’s $26.1 million Campus Center Project — has pulled a scattered campus community together. Along with the renovated Sports Science & Athletics Pavilion and the construction of The Frank and Nadine Johnson Family Plaza, it’s now crystal clear where to meet up for just about any event.
“Now, with the Plaza, the Pavilion, the sculptures, it has created a central place of activity,” West said. “I know for football games, the whole place used to be dead. Now, everyone gathers here. Even the opposing team comes and checks it out and they’re impressed.
“The deans have their meetings in the meeting rooms, we’ll have the holiday party there and Town Hall meetings. Every classroom in the building is full. I thought there might be a complaint or two about this or that, but no. The community has embraced it as well. We’ve had a few Chamber of Commerce events. I’d love to get “A Taste of La Verne” in there. Overall, it’s really had an impact. The sophomores came back to school after not having it and loved it, and the incoming freshmen said, ‘What did you do before you had this building?’
Not far into the future, it’s possible that no one will remember.