California State University Long Beach (CSULB) is a progressive institution committed to addressing an alarming reality in higher education: one in five college students will not complete their program or receive their degree. This statistic disproportionately affects low-income and underrepresented students. The University sought to consolidate 16 support services into one inclusive center that provides support for the entire spectrum of student needs.
For its new Student Success Center CSULB opted to transform Peterson Hall, a mid-century three-story concrete frame building. Peterson Hall’s greatest asset was its centralized location adjacent to Friendship Walk, a major campus thoroughfare. The University’s vision for the building as a place of gathering and support would require a complete transformation; SmithGroup had to make key structural, programmatic, ecological and aesthetic decisions to accommodate its various uses and better engage with students.
A new glassed-in student lounge atop columns redefines the entry sequence, giving the building a new presence and engagement on campus. A light-filled main stairway and inviting courtyard add to the sense of welcome and respite. Dark, cellular classrooms and labs have been modernized as day-lit, dynamic, porous space that draw students to a variety of alcoves and comfortable seating arrangements. Even the previously avoided basement is now is full of students, creatively working in the art studios and laboratories and taking advantage of benches and tables in the corridors.
By preserving and reimagining an existing campus building, the project enhanced its sense of place, met budget constraints and responded to the University’s sustainability goals. The renovation resulted in up to 90% less embodied carbon than a similar new building. Exposing and polishing the concrete floors and opening the ceilings reduced the amount of material used and waste generated during construction. New efficient mechanical, lighting, and window systems reduce energy consumption by 36% (compared with a similar facility), and the building is the first on campus with zero-waste program bins.
CSULB’s commitment to meeting student challenges is paying off: It recently received an award from the American Association of Colleges and Universities for success in raising freshmen six-year graduation rates from 41% to 64% in the last decade. The transformation of an outdated building into the Student Success Center portends further success, creating an inviting, inspiring environment where students can access invaluable personal and academic support on their path to a bright future.