Carolyn Fox is the university architect and executive director of planning, design and construction at UCCS. Born and raised on the East Coast, the New Jersey native and Syracuse University graduate has been affiliated with the Mountain Lions for about eight years. Surrounded by explosive growth, Fox took time with the Business Journal to discuss her 500-acre palette, misconceptions about her field and keeping her Scrabble habit casual.
How did you end up in Colorado?
I was married and my husband had his residency in Denver, so we came to Colorado.
I started out working for the city and county of Denver on a bond program that had been approved in the late ’80s. My involvement was project manager for several large renovation projects. I renovated the city and county building in Denver, Boettcher Concert Hall, Red Rocks Amphitheater and what used to be known as Denver Health. It was one massive bond issue that also covered the construction of the new central library downtown near Civic Center Park.
What was your role in those projects?
I was project manager — overseeing some great, high-profile and challenging projects. Red Rocks Amphitheater is on the National Register of Historic Places, so we had to work with the Park Service to make any changes. There were 44 judges working out of the City and County Building along with city council. That was challenging working with them and their dockets while making modifications.
What specifically was done with those projects?
For the City and County Building, one of the main tasks was to install air conditioning in this 100-year-old building that was never intended to be air-conditioned. There used to be window units hanging out all the windows. The original bids came in very high, and we had to redesign and bid it a second time.
Red Rocks involved making the amphitheater handicapped accessible and installing new bathrooms that were handicapped accessible, as well as a small police station and holding cell.
At Boettcher Concert Hall, the task was to modify the acoustics in order to enable it to accommodate different types of performances. It accommodated the symphony, but needed to also accommodate opera, or speaking engagements or jazz — a whole variety of performances. In order to do that, the acoustical environment needed to be modified. The discs hanging from the ceiling used to be fixed. We put in winches that are attached to each of those discs so they can be varied as far as the position and height in the hall. We also installed acoustic drapes that vary the acoustics. You can stand on stage and push a remote that says ‘Opera’ and the discs will adjust to the correct height and the drapes will adjust based on the acoustical needs for opera. Most of what we did wasn’t visible, but it made for a much more versatile venue.
How did you get to UCCS?
I was working for a private architecture firm in Colorado Springs for about 11 years. They had a contract with Colorado Springs Utilities to do all their renovation and new construction projects. I worked on quite a few utilities projects … either new construction or renovation work. Then I came here. I didn’t have experience specific to higher education, but I’d been involved in projects that made up all the components of the university, whether it was dining facilities, classrooms and lecture halls, performance spaces, laboratories. If you look at all the components that make up a campus, which is like a small, self-contained city — I’d worked on all these components, just not all on one property. To me this is a 500-acre palette.
What projects have you been involved in at UCCS?
We’ve gone through quite a building boom. I helped with the Gallogly Events Center, the Lane Center for Health and Sciences, Centennial Hall, the rec center expansion and wellness center, the parking garage with an athletic field on top, as well as the brand new village we’re opening, the Village at Alpine Valley, which is residence and dining halls. We also are building the Ent Center for the Arts.
Did you design those?
In my role, I work with outside architects to design buildings. It’s very collaborative. We’re the owners and I wear the owner’s hat, so we work in meeting our programmatic needs, meeting our budget and meeting our schedule. I definitely have input in design, but I’m one voice among many who contribute to that effort.
What else is in the works at UCCS?
The Ent Center for the Arts is coming out of the ground. That’s a really exciting project that’s underway. We also have a major renovation project for [the National Cyber Intelligence Center], which will be on Nevada.
Do you have a favorite project?
Sometimes I feel like the most recent is my favorite. The Village at Alpine Valley has been really exciting. We’ve been able to develop all nine acres and four buildings simultaneously — three residence halls and a new dining hall. I’m hoping we’ll get some design awards for it. I think we really took advantage of the site and we have astounding views from this campus. The seating area in the dining hall looks out to Pikes Peak, downtown and Garden of the Gods. It also looks down on one of my other favorite projects, which is our Alpine garage and recreational field. We built a four-story parking garage and put a recreational field on top. It’s fun!
How does the history of the campus play into your design?
There are two historic buildings here, Main and Cragmoor halls. Those were the original two when we purchased 80 acres for a $1 [in 1964]. They contained the offices and residential rooms for the sanitarium patients here recovering from tuberculosis. … We’ve been able to preserve those two buildings and integrate their functions into the use of the campus.
We’ve developed a palette for what our buildings look like and the materials we use, a palette for our residential buildings and a related, but separate, palette we use for our academic buildings — all influenced by those two original buildings.
What are some misconceptions about architects?
I think some people believe we just design. That’s more like 10 percent of what I do. The nitty gritty is that you have to make it work. Sure, you want it to look wonderful, but it has to be structurally sound; it has to work on a mechanical level; it has to suit the needs of the users; it has to meet building and [Americans with Disabilities Act] and [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design requirements] for this campus.
There are so many more aspects to being an architect than design. I love the whole process from beginning to end. I liken being an architect to being the conductor of an orchestra. There are all these consultants and contractors, really talented people, bringing their expertise. I feel, as the conductor, I have to get them organized to bring the project to completion. It’s very satisfying at the end of the day (which is really years down the road) to walk through a building that didn’t exist before.
What do you do for fun?
I like to hike, I like to read, and I play Scrabble.
Do you take your Scrabble seriously?
I don’t. There is a competitive Scrabble group in town. I stumbled upon them accidentally, and I was pretty blown away. I wasn’t used to the timers, and they use special dictionaries. That’s not me. I do social Scrabble.