Design for Community

The Heart of Campaign North Park

The construction of a new Science and Community Life Building is the major initiative of Campaign North Park. Nearly $31 million has been raised to fund the $42 million facility, which will both advance science education at North Park and enrich the campus experience for our students.

The important work of architectural planning for the new building is under the direction of Carl E. Balsam, executive vice president and chief financial officer. Managing the development of North Park’s campus is "one of the most exciting and most enjoyable parts of my job," said Balsam, who has been with the University for 23 years. During this time, he has overseen several significant additions to North Park’s footprint, including Anderson Chapel, Brandel Library, Helwig Recreation Center, and the Holmgren Athletic Complex, as well as the development of the campus’s green space and landscaping.

The Science and Community Life Building, which will take its place in the heart of campus, will accelerate student learning with new laboratories and classrooms and "be conscious in its intention to bring people together in an environment where the entire University community can flourish," Balsam said.

In this interview, Balsam offers a first look at how the new building is taking shape to realize the expectations of students, faculty, and staff, as well as to reflect North Park’s commitment to creation care and environmental stewardship. Strategically, North Park is on sound footing to grow even stronger as a leader in higher education, he said. "Our best days lie ahead of us, and the new Science and Community Life Building will help us further reach the fullness of what North Park can be."

Why build a new Science and Community Life Building at this time?

Carl Balsam: What’s always foremost with any capital project at North Park is meeting the needs of our current—and future—students. Over the years, campus development has focused on important academic, spiritual, and athletic facilities to benefit our students. Now, we’re turning our attention to science and technology to advance our leadership in the traditional sciences, and in related areas such as nursing, pre-med, athletic training, and so on. To be competitive, we need state-of-the-art facilities to continue attracting high-caliber students and the best faculty.

Our current spaces are out-of-date. The Wikholm Laboratories in the lower level of Carlson Tower are more than 40 years old. We do not have adequate spaces to support the work of our science faculty or to provide opportunities for collaborative faculty-student research, something in which keen students expect to participate. We can’t add to existing space or remedy obsolescence: Our best solution is to build new and expanded science spaces.

This also is an opportune time to bring together many vital student services such as University Ministries, Career Development and Internships, and Residence Life from dispersed basement locations to where, as we sometimes say, students will literally "trip over them." This building will also offer expanded common areas and a café to promote interaction and collaboration. Such gathering spaces are long overdue and certainly greatly needed at this time.

What are some of the distinctive features we can expect to see in the building?

CB: All students, faculty, and staff will enter the Science and Community Life Building through a central atrium space flanked by select student services, student social spaces, and a new café. The atrium will be visually open to certain science areas and core academic functions on the upper floors, which will feature technology-enhanced classrooms and modern laboratory and research spaces.

The atrium also will face outward to the campus green, linking the exterior landscaping to the ground floor community space. The entry lounge space and adjacent café will provide a campus living room for conversation and interaction, creating an environment in which community can flourish. The design will be conscious in its intention to bring people together to learn, collaborate, interact, and relax.

How is the University community contributing to building planning?

CB: Engagement of campus constituencies is ongoing. Our architects from VOA Associates have conducted highly interactive exercises with many major stakeholders to learn about the character and qualities that should be reflected in the building to achieve our vision. Campus participants have said the building should encourage collaboration; be flexible, welcoming, and engaging; exhibit environmental stewardship; and communicate technological sophistication. Through an interactive process, these ideas will eventually crystallize into final designs.

Because of the highly specialized and technical aspect of the science spaces, we also engaged the science faculty with specialized consultants from HERA (Health and Education Research Associates), a nationally known laboratory facilities planner that has designed many advanced technical facilities for universities and academic medical centers. VOA will take the outcomes of the HERA planning process to develop schematics, and then full designs, of the science spaces.

In the months ahead, there will be continuing opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to provide additional feedback as the design develops.

How will the new building carry on North Park’s commitment to environmental stewardship?

CB: Our intention is to make this building a showcase of prudent sustainability practice, in the same way we focused on creation care during the campus green space and landscaping project.

The design team will focus on building materials and technologies that respect the larger environment. From the simplest material selection, through a construction process that mandates recycling of waste, to mechanical systems operation, environmental impact will be considered. The design team is targeting LEED Gold in its analysis of systems, materials, and components. The building envelope will be robust and design methods will be used to reclaim heat from exhaust systems. Opportunities for geothermal heating and cooling and solar thermal are being studied. The overall impact on the global environment and local carbon footprint will be minimized.

In the science labs, we hope to adopt concepts such as "green chemistry," using chemicals and chemical processes designed to reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts, including reduced waste products, non-toxic components, and improved efficiency.

What will the Science and Community Life Building mean to the future of this university?

CB: There is an old saying: "If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward." With the addition of this new building, we will certainly move forward as an institution. This new momentum will enable us to build future enrollment, attract the best and brightest faculty, and prepare our students for successful lives and careers.

This building not only serves the sciences but also will feature significant general academic classrooms. We just set institutional records for both the size of our incoming undergraduate class and our overall undergraduate headcount this fall. If we are to build on that success, we will need substantial new classrooms. This new building is not optional; it is essential. And we need it now.

I am confident that North Park’s constituency will embrace this need and give generously to impact the lives of students who will be the next generation of leaders for both our church and society. 

Hear more directly from Balsam about how North Park is designing for community and for success, placing the new Science and Community Life Building at the heart of campus and student life.

Next Steps

Watch an interview with Carl Balsam to hear more about North Park's changing campus. 

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