UVU's new library fosters sense of community

Education » Fast-growing school still needs science, arts centers and other facilities to accommodate projected enrollment increase.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Michael Freeman joined Utah Valley State College in 1993, the library held 66,000 volumes, most of which he soon shed as library director. Freeman has since amassed thousands of new books, housed in a new five-story structure that is noteworthy more for human activity than the printed material it holds.

Group and solitary study, exploring digital archives, lectures, noshing, relaxing between classes, examining large-scale pieces of public art, even entertaining small children is welcome. This striking 190,000-square-foot facility was developed during the run-up to Utah Valley's transition to a regional university, the first big step toward achieving a master plan that calls for a new quad, arts and science centers, and other facilities to accommodate anticipated enrollment growth.

"The library was key," said Liz Hitch, Utah Valley University's vice president for academic affairs who served as interim president last year. "I was stunned by how quickly the students figured out how to use it." Visitation approached 1.3 million in the library's first year and circulation soared by 43 percent.

"These numbers show people come here and it has a sense of place, and somehow that translates into more use," Freeman said.

The new facility, the largest on UVU's 32-year-old campus, was intended to relieve a major challenge facing Utah's fastest growing and evolving institution of higher learning. The school's lack of space is compounded by every surge in enrollment, expected to reach 32,000 in the next few years. The College of Science and Health struggles in the Pope Science Building, which serves 2,000 majoring in the sciences.

"We've got to have better laboratory facilities. You can't have four chemistry labs and teach this number of students," Hitch said.

Even with the new library, UVU has the most intensively used facilities of any Utah campus, with 121 square feet per student. Salt Lake Community College and Weber State University are next with 146 and 196 square feet, respectively, while the University of Utah has 448 square feet per student.

Under the leadership of Wilson Sorensen, the longtime head of what was then called Utah Technical College, UVU's Orem campus was developed in the 1970s on an old farm and gravel quarry along Interstate 15. The campus became an interconnected network of mostly low, concrete modernist buildings, many of which have been re-purposed over the years as the school's mission expanded.

"We are on a small footprint, but because of the way the campus is designed, it makes for an innovative learning environment. It creates spaces where students and faculty can interact and learn from each other," said Val Peterson, vice president for administration.

The last legislative session kick-started planning for the proposed science center with a $3 million bond-funded appropriation. The 140,000-square-foot facility is expected to cost $48 million and take another three years to open.

The next priority is the proposed Center for the Arts to house UVU's popular dance, music, theater and visual arts departments, which are currently scattered around campus and have 1,200 majors. Space is so tight, Woodbury Art Museum is operated off campus in University Mall.

This center, which could be as big as 130,000 square feet and cost up to $80 million, will anchor a new quad envisioned for the north end of campus, according to Kathie Debenham, interim dean for the School of the Arts.

"We wanted something that captures people's imagination. The idea is it will be a work of art onto itself. It will add to the sculptural interest of the university," said Debenham, a professor of dance. "We want to build it once and build it right. We don't want to settle for something that won't be sufficient for your programs when you open the doors."

Seven years is the soonest such an ambitious facility could be built, she said. Other campus construction priorities include general classroom buildings, a student fitness center, a business building and parking structures to replace the surface lots sacrificed for new construction.

In the face of all this need, administrators are still glowing over the school's new library. Its collection has grown to 230,000 volumes with room for twice that. Books are important, but planners wanted a facility that served as an institutional focal point and home base.

Accordingly, it houses a 162-seat auditorium, 31 group study rooms, a family room (with toys and a television) and a well-provisioned snack bar serving decent coffee. Students can take food and beverages wherever they please. But most crucial are the digital learning facilities that have been so popular that Freeman immediately ordered another 100 computers.

"The impact goes way beyond the structure itself, which has won awards. It is a magnet for students," said UVU's new president, Matthew Holland. "This has been a commuter campus. It doesn't lend itself to a sense of community. The library has helped change that by keeping kids on campus."


Compact UVU is growing

UVU's Orem campus, developed in the late 1970s, now covers 244 acres. Facility space has grown to 1.9 million square feet in 39 buildings, providing the smallest amount of space per student among Utah's colleges and universities. On UVU's horizon are new science and arts centers, but those proposed buildings will only allow the university to keep up with projected enrollment growth.