August 10, 2015, BY Matt Hughes

As they return to campus this month, 344 Bucknell University students will have a new place to call home — one designed and built from the ground up with their needs and desires in mind.

The University has capped off construction of the South Campus Apartments, a $47-million, 165,000-square-foot complex comprising four residence halls providing apartment-style living for seniors and juniors, as well as a central Commons Building featuring à la carte dining and a large event space where students can do yoga, host social events and just hang out.

Dean of Students Amy Badal said the entire complex was designed to put student needs first and foremost.

We took a very intentional, student-centered approach, in which the buildings were designed by students and will be operated by them," Badal said. "A group of students met with the architects and shared their vision for what should be housed in these buildings, and the architects did a great job of reflecting that vision."

That input is visible everywhere in the new complex, from the colors of the walls and fixtures (bright yellows and greens offsetting dark wood in social spaces, soothing blues inside the apartments) to the inclusion of an additional themed lounge in each of the four residence halls.

Nearly 500 students voted to select the four themes: a traditional game room with a large-screen TV, table tennis and foosball; a fitness room with medicine balls and yoga mats; a quiet study area; and a creative space for students to collaborate and design projects.

"Every aspect of this space was selected to stimulate natural curiosity," Peter Puleo '17, one of the students who helped design it, said about the creative space. "From a distance, it looks similar to a kindergarten classroom: comfortable furniture, large tabletops, posters and artwork hanging from the walls, bright colors and natural lighting. But take a step inside and you'll notice this is one of the most well-resourced spaces on-campus, with dozens of feet of whiteboards, projectors and prototyping supplies."

Left out of the original construction plans, the lounges were added because students requested them — and were arranged the way students wanted them as well.

"The students wanted to commute easily back and forth between lounges," said Dennis Hawley '72, M'73, associate vice president of facilities. "So rather than having them stuck at the far end of the buildings, the four lounges are right in the center."

The South Campus Apartments surround a green space that rivals the Academic Quad in size.

That center is a space for studying and socializing at the heart of a new open quadrangle that rivals the Academic Quad in size. The new quad — located behind Academic West, a short walk from Bertrand Library — is flanked by the four residence halls (named South Campus Apartments 1–4), with the Commons Building at its entrance. All five buildings are constructed of Bucknell brick, the University's signature masonry color, in the Collegiate Georgian style that defines the University's campus. Those bricks are laid in Flemish bond, the same pattern used in some of the campus' oldest, most iconic buildings, including Marts, Coleman and Freas halls.

While they look historic, the buildings contain a suite of 21st-century sustainable design features engineered to meet or exceed LEED Silver standards. Those features include use of recycled materials; low e-value, gas-filled windows; motion-sensing lights; and a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system designed for low energy consumption. Stormwater runoff is channeled to an underground storage basin with a permeable base, allowing water to slowly seep back into the ground after the storm. Any overflow is captured by an existing series of rain gardens.

"The apartment buildings were all LEED Silver designed, but we're hoping to get LEED gold for the Commons Building," said Hawley. "Technically we should meet the criteria."

Step inside the new residence halls, and you'll find that the new apartment interiors are just as impressive as their stately exteriors.

Numerous windows provide ample natural light in the new apartments.

Each apartment contains four single bedrooms large enough to accommodate several bed and furniture arrangements; a full kitchen with bar-height island seating illuminated by drop lights, a full-size refrigerator and an electric range with space for a microwave above; and a living room area sporting a couch and two comfy chairs. The air-conditioned rooms offer ceiling heights between 10 and 12 feet, and many feature bay windows offering panoramic views outside. The ADA-compliant bathrooms in each apartment are divided into separate toilet and shower areas with locking doors and an open vanity area with two sinks, allowing up to four residents to use the space simultaneously.

"This is something we came up with back in the mid-'80s for the Gateway Residence Center," said Hawley. "You should be able to use all four fixtures at the same time, with privacy. If you do this right it really works out well for the students."

Even students who don't live in the South Campus Apartments can enjoy amenities afforded by the new complex. The Commons Café, an à la carte restaurant with booth and table seating for 80, is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (The café opens Aug. 24, the first day of classes.) Just outside, there's a "docking station" for Bucknell's mobile eatery, the Flying Bison, which also serves the public.

The multipurpose room and lounges are available for all students to use, as are a pair of new basketball and volleyball courts behind the complex, with lights for games that continue past sunset. A patio next to the Commons Building contains a "company switch" providing power for outdoor concerts. One residence hall houses a storage room where students who live far from campus can safely store possessions during the summer, and one of the complex's most unique features, an outdoor "teaching wall," provides three-level tiered seating where professors can lead classes in the sun.

"The character of the space is reminiscent of central Pennsylvania fieldstone," said Hawley. "We don't have any precedent for using stone on campus, so we thought this would be a way to bring a central Pennsylvania look to Bucknell."

The Teaching Wall is an outdoor classroom evoking Pennsylvania fieldstone.

The opening of the complex will also enhance residence life for students residing in other dormitories by restoring lounges long ago converted to living space due to space constraints.

"Swartz Hall is a good example," said Hawley. "We'd taken over the corner lounges in Swartz and made them triples years ago. They're not going to be triples this year; they're going to be lounges again. The same thing is happening in other parts of campus."

The new buildings also accomplish an institutional goal, outlined in the Campus Master Plan, of bringing some 300 students back to campus from off-campus housing. (Off-campus housing allotments are now limited to 200.) Ongoing and future building projects include the renovation of the Carnegie Building, scheduled to reopen in December; the Graham Building, a 36,000-square-foot facility next to Sojka Pavilion that will house a health and wellness center and new wrestling facilities, scheduled to open in summer 2016; and Academic East, a new classroom building to be constructed between Academic West and the Breakiron Engineering Building.

For more information about the South Campus Apartments, click here.