True Green Cities/Celebrating Ten+ Years: Rehabilitating a Post-War Community College

Spring Center at SUNY Erie (Erie Community College North) in Williamsville, NY

Celebrating Ten+ Years!  It’s been eleven years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. 

Why Is A State Board of Regents’ Post-War Community College Important?

We worked with Erie County Department of Public Works and Watts Architecture & Engineering to design the rehabilitation of the exterior of the Spring Student Center at SUNY Erie (Erie Community College North) in Williamsville, NY.  The campus, including the Spring Student Center, has been determined eligible for listing in the State and National Register of Historic Places. This project is using New York State funding and is therefore being evaluated under NYS Section 14.09. BAC’s primary role was conducting the Section 14.09 review (NY State’s version of Section 106) and providing preservation design recommendations.

The new Erie County Technical Institute buildings were designed by the noted Buffalo architecture firm Duane Lyman Associates and erected between 1958 and 1960 under the direction of the general contracting firmSiegfried Construction Company of Buffalo. Designed and sited to make travel between buildings as short as possible, the suburban campus encompassed five buildings including the Spring Student Center which was designed as the campus book store and coffee shop.  It was named after Laurence E. Spring, second president of Erie County Technical Institute.

Three years later, campus enrollment had already reached the maximum number of students that could be accommodated and pressure was building for new campuses in the City of Buffalo and southern Erie County. The Buffalo architecture firm of Kideney, Smith & Fitzgerald, specialists in educational and other public facilities, was hired in 1965-66 to develop plans to double the campus’s size and enable ECTI to accommodate new liberal arts programs. Constructed 1967-69, the campus expansion resulted in the following changes to Spring Student Center – A large new entrance was constructed to better accommodate students, the bookstore was enlarged, expanding into the former coffee shop space, and an addition was constructed at the eastern end to accommodate a new coffee shop.

(The following 2 paragraphs are Extracted from the Determination of Eligibility prepared by Daniel McEneny, NYSOPR&HP.)

The buildings of the Erie Community College North Campus appear to be eligible for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places as relatively intact original manifestations of the early development and expansion of the community college and state university system in New York State. 

The Erie Community College North Campus meets Criterion A in Education for the important role it played in the education of World War II veterans. As one of the first five community colleges in New York State, it was also part of statewide efforts to adapt and expand the state educational system to meet the immediate and rapidly changing demands of a widening pool of students as well as increasing business needs for employees skilled in new and emerging fields and technologies. The North Campus buildings also meet Criterion C in Architecture in whole and in part as a prototypical suburban community college campus in New York State as well as its place in the development, suburbanization, and expansion of the community college system in New York State. It is also important to note that the campus was also one of the last architectural commissions of the noted Buffalo architect Duane S. Lyman and Duane Lyman Associates (1958-60) as well as the work of the Buffalo architecture firm Kideney, Smith & Fitzgerald (1967-1969 expansions, alterations and new building). Both firms specialized in the construction of educational and public institutions and have many commissions and National Register listings in the Buffalo vicinity.

Character Defining Features

As a conservative International Style one and two-story building representing new formalism of the 1950s/1960s, the following architectural features are considered character-defining. Both construction periods reflect a fairly conservative modern style, blending the International Style that was prevalent during the 1950s for commercial and institutional buildings with the new formalism emerging during the 1960s. The additions and new construction dating to the 1960s are architecturally distinct and do not generally obscure or destroy the significant, character defining architectural features dating to the original construction period. The 1950s building’s character defining features include:

  • Largely single-story buildings;
  • Large, formal central entrances;
  • Raised, patterned brick detailing in buff-colored brick;
  • Flared, canted aluminum door frames with rolled profile moldings;
  • Ribbons of paired aluminum windows set into single story facades. 

Rehabilitation Approach

The exterior rehabilitation of the Spring Center includes the replacement of HCM-containing (hazardous containing materials) aluminum windows, curtain wall and doors to match the original as closely as possible; repair of exterior masonry and the alteration of the Dining Hall wall on the North Elevation facing the Quad to accommodate a new entrance to a new outdoor terrace.  Minor alterations are being proposed to the entrances on the South Elevation to better welcome students, faculty, staff and visitors who typically use these entrances from the parking lot adjacent to the building.  The State Historic Preservation Office approved the Section 14.09 submission and alterations in February.  Construction should begin in 2023.