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Friday, December 9, 2022

Cone of Convergence

On one end of a stage in Roberts Stadium sat a pile of diplomas. One by one, University of Southern Indiana seniors walked across the stage as thousands of family and friends watched every step on May 8. At the end of the ceremony, the graduates flipped their tassels from the right side of their caps to the left, a move signifying they had joined 30,000 USI alumni.

Those alumni come from a school that began as a branch campus of Indiana State University 46 years ago. The first graduating class was 412; 1,000 students graduated the next year. Now, the comprehensive, public university boasts an annual student body enrollment of more than 10,000. These students need space, and USI leaders have been more than accommodating. In the last five years, the school has undergone unprecedented expansion. In 2006, the $28 million David L. Rice Library opened. In 2007, a labyrinth added important character to the developing quad on campus, and when the $31.9 million Business and Engineering Center opened in 2010, the quad was complete.

Sort of.

“Small and cramped.” These words come from students asked about the original University Center on the quad. One such critique came from Student Government Association president Jordan Whitledge, a student with a triple major in business administration, economics, and political science. Constructed in 1974 and later expanded in 1996, the center was running out of space for a growing enrollment. The students comprise more than 100 clubs and organizations, and the university center could house 12.

By 2006, completion of the new library left the former space, next to the original university center, vacant. The available building made a bigger and better university center possible, and USI officials slotted a new building in their master renovation and expansion plan.

By March 3, 2011, a 97-foot conical tower rose on campus, connecting the old library to the university center. The repurposed library added more than 20,000 square feet to the university center, now known for two wings: UC East and UC West.

The architects and designers from Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture crafted the plans for the $18.6 million university center expansion and renovation project, and the New York City-based firm incorporated Indiana tradition and raw materials from local sources.

The marriage of the old and new is evident. The 28-foot-tall Orr iron arch in UC East once graced the entryway to the Orr Iron Company headquarters located at Fulton Avenue and the Lloyd Expressway. The company was founded by Samuel Orr in 1835 and later overseen by Orr’s grandson, Evansville native Robert D. Orr, who was Indiana’s governor from 1981-1989. Governor Orr signed the legislation that created USI in 1985, and the Orr iron arch is a reflection of the school’s history.

Many other regional influences are seen in the construction materials that adorn the facade and interior walls. The exterior of the tower is constructed with limestone from the B.G. Hoadley Quarries located in Bedford, Ind. Inside clay pipe encloses steel columns and A-blocks line the circular walls in the Fireside and student lounges. Both products are made by the Can Clay Corporation in Cannelton, Ind. Twelve hundred chair legs manufactured by the Jasper Chair Company were stained and hung as decorative ceiling pieces in two of the student lounges. [pagebreak]

In an effort to be consistent with the campus-wide mission to “go green,” USI officials incorporated environmentally friendly measures into the construction and renovation of the university center. Glass on the exterior of the building is insulated and has low-emission coatings to minimize solar-heat gain, and natural sunlight is utilized when possible. When the building is not in use, a central control system adjusts temperatures automatically to reduce energy use. Design aspects such as low-emitting paint were chosen to improve air quality.

Arguably the most recognized feature of the new construction is the campus tower, and it is as useful as it is striking. The ground floor of the tower has ample space for additional seating for Cyclone Salads and Salsa Rico, the new restaurants housed in UC East. The two eateries reflect the trend in healthy food options that are becoming more present on college campuses across the nation. The second level is home to the Traditions Lounge, a nod to USI alumni, and opens to a dramatic ceiling at the point of the tower.

Though architecturally impressive, the new UC offers needed space. UC East accommodates 25 student organizations, including the Student Government Association, Activities Programming Board, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and The Shield, the student newspaper. In addition to student organizations, some student-focused, university-based offices are located on the second level.

Throughout the building are several student common areas and lounges, including the Fireside and Heritage lounges. Storage lockers for student clubs and a graphics room where students can make banners and signs to promote club activities are in the building. New programming areas also dot the new university center including a new outdoor amphitheater and a courtyard.

Count the students, who once characterized the former university center as “cramped,” among the fans of the new addition to their campus. “The space has opened up lines of communication among organizations that were not possible before,” Whitledge says. “It allows us to better coordinate and cooperate with each other on various projects and programs. I feel the space promotes more student involvement which creates better learning opportunities for students outside the classroom.”

The administration also agrees. “I find the tower particularly impressive as it is now a focal point and landmark on campus,” says Todd Wilson, assistant vice president for marketing and communications. “Overall, UC East is architecturally significant and is a great ‘ode to Indiana’ in the history and local materials that it embraces.”

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