Adaptive reuse project at a New Jersey university includes improved lighting, décor and accessible seating

May 9, 2024
Overhead recessed downlights, cove lighting along the aisles, and decorative linear LEDs incorporated with acoustic panels help transform a lecture hall.

Like many institutions in post-pandemic America, colleges and universities face multiple pressures: higher costs yet tight facility budgets, aging buildings and functional spaces, and advancing technology demands.

For Montclair State University, a public research university in New Jersey, these challenges manifested themselves in lecture spaces that were outdated and inaccessible. Campus renovations had to be completed with an eye toward value. Adaptive reuse can provide the best value for such projects, said Mark A. Sullivan, AIA, a partner with integrated design firm JZA+D. Adaptive reuse projects offer exceptional value when guided by institutional objectives and executed effectively, Sullivan noted.

“Many colleges and universities are revisiting their master plans, especially in the wake of the pandemic and economic downturn, looking for ways to be more sustainable and gain a competitive edge,” said Sullivan, an architect with more than three decades of experience in design for higher education. “Even when new construction is feasible, we recommend looking at options for adapting and renovating existing facilities that may be underperforming or underutilized, or both.”

At Montclair State University, Sullivan and his JZA+D team approached the renovation of a 100-plus seat lecture space in Calcia Hall with clear objectives from the university team: enhance the student experience overall and improve accessibility. Also key to the renovation was improved lighting.

“Montclair State University’s Office of Capital Planning & Project Management wanted the lecture hall to be overall brighter and aesthetically cleaner,” Sinclair said. The JZA+D team made decisions about the lighting design and specifications to support that outcome. “The existing space had not seen any significant improvements or renovations since it was originally constructed, probably in the 1960s.”

The original lecture hall floor plan included a steeply sloped seating area and a projection booth near the back of the hall. The JZA+D team performed several studies and test fits before designing a plan that reallocated the space previously occupied by the projection booth to ADA-compliant seating.

To light the space, overhead recessed downlights, cove lighting along the aisles, and decorative linear LEDs were incorporated into acoustic panels on the side walls. Given the university’s focus on value, Sullivan sought cost-effective luminaires that met his requirements.

“Our approach to selection was an open-bid process,” Sullivan said. “Starting with a list for a basis of design fixtures to determine both requirements and price point, we would consider any submitted fixture from a range of manufacturers that would provide the same luminosity, aesthetic value and functionality. Ultimately we specified Fluxwerx Illuminations linears, Rayon Lighting recessed downlights, and GENLED Acolyte linears for the cove lighting.”

“Given the lead time and cost of light fixtures, we always provide basis-of-design fixtures and expect that the contractor will submit an equivalent fixture for approval,” Sullivan said.

Controls were added to allow the lecture hall lighting to be adjusted for multiple uses, Sullivan added. Multiple lighting scenes can be programmed to take advantage of the three types of fixtures installed in the hall.

Energy efficiency provides a value return long after new fixtures are installed. “At JZA+D, we approach every project with consideration for sustainability, efficiency, and environmental stewardship as priorities. For the Calcia Hall auditorium lighting, we specified LED fixtures to balance aesthetic goals with lower power consumption, combined with occupancy sensors for optimal efficiency,” Sullivan said.

In addition to lighting, upgrades to the audiovisual equipment, HVAC system, and seating and décor completed the welcoming, modern environment.

“High-tech amenities are becoming a focus for higher education institutions of all kinds,” Sullivan added. “But cost-effective renovations of conventional academic spaces like the Calcia Hall lecture room at Montclair are often just as important to achieving institutional goals — sometimes more so.”

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About the Author

Linda Becker

Linda Becker is editor-in-chief of LightSPEC (formerly Architectural SSL). She has more than 20 years of experience in B2B publishing, primarily focused on manufacturing and process applications.