11-10-20 | Feature

Growing Campus Leads to Improved Landscape

Trans Alta Commons

SCJ Alliance, a landscape architect firm based in Lacey, WA, designed the circular pattern to represent the center of campus at Washington's Centralia Junior College. The idea was to mimic a bike wheel and rough compass points to reflect how the campus serves as the halfway point between Seattle and Portland during the STP (Seattle to Portland) bike race that occurs every year. The plaza in the center is also named in honor of the school's current vice president of finance & administration, Steve Ward, who not only is responsible for ensuring many of the college projects come to fruition (including this one), but also, as an avid cyclist, serves as the executive organizer for the STP at Centralia College.
The seating around the circle was designed as an amphitheater to attract outdoor classes and function as seating so students could enjoy hanging out and being part of the center of campus. Cast-in-place concrete was used for the upper seat wall which defines and directs people to the stairs at each end. It also adds an area for cyclists to lounge as they stop and congregate during the STP race.
There are two of these lounging areas located adjacent to the walkway. SCJ's team included these for students to enjoy the warm weather as they allow for laying down or sitting in a group. The plaza worked around a mature Japanese Maple that was loved on campus and was requested to be left undisturbed. The lawn is a northwest blend of Rye, Fescue and Bent grasses that look great year-round in this area. Tree wells and the curb along the plaza were edged with curved concrete mow strips that the school's mowers could navigate with minimal hand mowing and edging. The school was concerned about skateboarding on the weekend and the damage that often can occur from this activity, so a pattern was created that would discourage skating. The paving pattern around the building was desired to be different from the esplanade so permeable paving was used to create a contrast. The horizontal and vertical accent bands provide an edge for the pavers and align perfectly with the columns and vertical structure of the building.
The original esplanade shown on the right side of this image has been a fixture of the campus for many years. It is something that former and current staff, scholars, professors and locals all relate to. The team wanted to connect the past with the future of this building. So the 38,000 sq. ft. of new paving was aligned with the existing paving features. The college had an existing lighting scheme that was matched by the new lights along the esplanade as well. The statue is in honor of Katherine Kemp and Margaret Comer: two women in their 30's who were considered the backbone of the college as they were the ones that kept the college going and "continuously operating."
Water flows from surrounding roof drains to a rock swale under the sidewalk and into a storm pond. This design was intentionally incorporated as an educational tool that will allow the visitors and students to understand where stormwater goes. Pervious concrete walkways incorporate Oblio trench grates from Iron Age Design. The pattern on the grates is a series of circles that mimic rain falling on water.
This is a biofiltration area that has a river cobble along the bottom of the swale. These biofiltration areas not only collect rainwater from the roof but also allow for additional storage when the storm system is overwhelmed. The plants along the edge include Japanese Forest Grass with Kelsey dogwood along the right edge and back of the swale. There is also Yellow sedge and a row of Gulf Stream Nandina along the wall.
As the team removed the road and tied in the existing pavement, they included some permeable details into this phase like the 2' square scored natural concrete. Additionally, an undulating edge was added because the college requested an appearance that did not resemble a road. A crossing to connect the building to an asphalt path was incorporated with the same scoring that was used at the corner and entrance to the building on the right side of this image.

Founded in 1925 as Centralia Junior College, the school is the oldest continuously operating community college in Washington State. Located in Western Washington, in the heart of downtown Centralia, the school has evolved from modest beginnings of offering classes without a physical campus and 15 students its first year, to providing four-year degrees on a campus of 25-acres to over 6,000 students.

As the school and community grew, a vision evolved to create a pedestrian-oriented campus. Through multiple masterplans, this vision was maintained despite the difficulty of implementing the design in an area of the campus that was divided in half by major streets. The new 70,000 sq. ft. student union building, called TransAlta Commons, was the catalyst project for pulling together 30 years of dreams and hard work to create a pedestrian campus. It was one of the final steps of the master plan to upgrade and modernize the college.

Studies had been done to identify how to tie the campus together and make it more pedestrian-oriented, and it was found that closing two streets were key to that vision. The development of the Commons building, and its surrounding walkways, provided an opportunity to convert the streets to pedestrian esplanades. The idea was presented to the City of Centralia and was met with approval by both the council and the community.

SCJ Alliance's landscape architecture studio designed all exterior hardscape, plazas, sustainable landscape and high-efficiency irrigation. To help the architects and school visualize design options for the courtyards and hardscape design, 3-D models were created by the landscape architecture team.

In the beginning stages of the project, the team identified their key goals, which were providing a paving design that respected the existing campus esplanade design, providing an environmentally sustainable design, including high efficiency irrigation, ensuring fire truck and service vehicle accessibility, and creating a space for hosting college, community, and regional events.


Beyond college events, the school frequently hosts other activities including the nationally popular Seattle to Portland (STP) 206-mile bike ride. For this, the college provides camping spaces, first aid, food vendors, bike storage/repair, and numerous other services to the thousands of participants. These types of uses were also kept in mind during design.

Several schematic design concepts were presented, each offering options for student gathering spaces, handicap access, and a welcoming entry to the building. Features included amphitheater style seating, extensive use of rain gardens, capturing of roof water for the rain gardens, native and drought tolerant landscape plantings, and pervious concrete, asphalt, and pavers. Providing options allowed the college community to evaluate which concepts best met their vision for the area.

The team integrated campus monuments and art in the design solution, even developing a new section in the master plan for these items. Many of these pieces recognize and honor significant people in the history of the community and the college. The focal point of the landscape solution is the circular Ward Plaza. Located at the physical and social center of the campus and surrounded by the newest buildings, the plaza replaced a former four-way intersection. It was designed to be both an informal gathering space as well as a stage and center of activity for school and community functions. The two vacated city streets were converted into pedestrian esplanades utilizing the pervious pavers.

"The TransAlta Student Commons is right in the middle of it all," said SCJ principal and Landscape Architect Jeff Glander. "We worked to create an outdoor space reflecting the school's acknowledgement that the student union building is central to the campus, not only in geography, but in heart."
One of the challenges the team was faced with during the project was figuring out how to replace existing roadways with an attractive pervious paver system that would go over an existing concrete creek bridge. The designed system included underdrain pipes to collect stormwater, and any water that doesn't infiltrate through the pipe system is routed to secondary infiltration ponds and rain gardens. The design also used impervious concrete pavers to tie into a campus esplanade constructed in the 1990's.

This two-phase LEED Gold project utilized 38,000 sq. ft. of Eco-Priora permeable pavers. Phase 1 included the development of the Commons building and surrounding hardscape and parking. Phase 2 involved completing the Ward Plaza which was followed by the conversion of the two streets to the pedestrian esplanade.

"This six-year project was a really fun one to work on," said Glander. "Our landscape architecture team worked closely with Centralia College, MSGS Architects and Andy Rovelstad Architects to create an outdoor space that is useable, beautiful, and fun for the students and community."

Design Team
- Landscape Architects - SCJ Alliance: Jeffrey B. Glander and Trent Grantham
- Civil Engineer Phase 2 - SCJ Alliance: Tyrell Bradley
- Building Architects - MSGS Architects and Rovelstad Architects
- Electrical/Lighting Design - Wood Harbinger

Construction Cost
- Phase 1: $26 million
- Phase 2: $1 million

As seen in LASN magazine, November 2020.


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