The buildings planned for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs demonstrate the college’s evolution.

In the last decade, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has evolved from a humble commuter school to a hilltop university with one of the fastest growing student populations in the country.

Ongoing construction and unique architecture reflect the campus’ growing sense of pride and self confidence, architects say.

And, the school is commissioning some of the only major architectural work in the area these days, said Adam Thesing of LKA Partners, one of the several southern Colorado architectural firms working on UCCS projects.

“This is a pretty exciting campus,” said Carolyn Fox, the UCCS campus architect.

She said the school has numerous remodeling projects happening simultaneously and has had several small projects happening almost constantly for the last four or five years.

They’re all aimed at making the campus more marketable and comfortable to a growing student population.

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“We have a palette that we use,” Fox said. “We’re trying to unify the campus. We have a theme. We try different variations on that theme using that palette so the campus ends up being more cohesive.”

The school’s buildings all connect with a serpentine pathway dubbed the pedestrian spine. That backbone of the campus has only connected the mish mash of structures previously scattered across the hilltop since 2009.

“It threads its way through campus as an organizing element,” Fox said.

It’s one of the most important designs in the school’s effort to bring the integrity that exists inside the walls to the exterior — something Fox has been pushing to achieve for more than a decade.

Those efforts are in high gear now. While there are countless small projects in the works, the school just commissioned two major design projects that will change the campus dramatically.

The first is the Summit Village expansion. That will include 192 beds in two new residence halls. The new halls will have single rooms in suites with small group bathrooms rather than the traditional shared dorm rooms and gang bathrooms down the hall — a popular new trend deemed necessary by campus administration to attract today’s graduates.

The second project moves the campus into new territory — its previously untouched north campus. The John E. and Margot L. Lane Foundation donated $4million to help the school create its new health sciences academic building. In addition to housing academic health programs, the University of Colorado center for aging and dermatology, a trauma center and Peak Vista will occupy space in the facility.

“We’re trying to build on the synergies of the agencies in the building,” said Paul Haack, president of Denver architectural firm Anderson Mason Dale.

AMD was awarded the contract for the Lane Center at the end of 2011. It will be the first building on the school’s north campus.

There are high standards for new projects on campus. Every new building and major remodel in the last four years has met the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold standard, something Fox said has become a campus standard for all new architectural work.

“We have a lot going on here,” Fox said.

Dorms for millennials

UCCS constructed its first set of residence halls, Summit Village, in 1995. Before that, there were no on-campus living options for students. The additions of the dorms changed the character of the school and allowed it to begin drawing students from other parts of the state, Fox said. Between the dorms and the Alpine Village Apartments, the campus has 900 student beds.

Today, the school draws students not just from around the state, but also from around the country. It’s even recruiting international students. The new dorms will play a key role in those recruitment efforts.

“Current incoming students want private space, a private room,” Fox said. “They’re generally not as attracted to double rooms with gang bathrooms.”

One of the buildings will be designed with small kitchenettes specifically for international students, said Chad Novak, the principal in charge of the residence halls project at H&L Architecture, a Denver firm with local offices.

Novak said the new buildings will be modeled in the same Mediterranean hillside village theme as the existing residence halls with white stucco exteriors and clay tile rooftops, but that they will have their own distinct look and feel.

The hillside village theme fits because the terrain is varied — one of the biggest challenges in designing at the UCCS campus.

“The campus has a lot of challenges when it comes to deciding how to site a building,” Novak said. “But you also have the advantage that when a building is planned and designed with the site in mind, it’s just absolutely gorgeous.”

The biggest challenge to these hillside buildings will be designing around arroyos — seasonal streams. Novak said he wants to optimize them and site the buildings not only so they don’t interfere with those natural waterways, but also so they enhance the beauty of the arroyos and the arroyos enhance the beauty of the buildings.

Novak said his team is working on schematic designs and they expect to break ground by May.

Synergy and science

Design work on the Lane Center is just beginning and it’s a big project, said Haack with AMD. There’s a lot at stake.

“There are two things about this project,” Haack said. “It’s a cornerstone project. It sets the bones and the tone for the entire north campus. It’s also the new face of UCCS on Nevada Avenue.”

This academic health sciences building will be slightly removed from the rest of the campus, over the crest of the hill sloping downward to the west where Austin Bluffs Parkway meets Nevada. Until now, the campus has been tucked away on the hill, details hidden from passers-by on busy Nevada Avenue. An empty field and UCCS sign are all that draw the eye upward to the school.

The Lane Center will change all of that.

As AMD designs the building, it’s also working with the university on a master plan for the entire north campus that will help to tie the two parts of the campus together and maintain the hard-won cohesiveness the school has been working to create for so many years.

“We’re not going to come in with a totally new building vocabulary,” Haack said. “In the end, 20 years from now, when there is more development on that ridge, it will tie into the campus seamlessly.”

In developing this project, AMD is also helping the school decide where and how to place connecting infrastructure to allow future development.

The building itself will have a face to Nevada, a face to the existing campus and it will be built to LEED gold certification standards, Haack said. All of that, and it will fit into the aggressive topography of the site. It will be a challenging design project, but a rewarding one.

Haack said he expects to get through the design phases in time for construction to start late this summer.