Morrisville State College Unveils New Sheila Johnson Design Center

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Sitting at a desk enveloped in natural light in a lofty architectural studio, Morrisville State College student Antwon Ward placed the finishing touches on the model of a wooden pavilion he designed in class.

Nearby, a faint buzz of saws filled a hallway along with echoes of voices coming from a grand atrium where students gathered to chat, tweet, and finish homework before class.

The impressive building, flooded with bright and soaring spaces, is the college's new design center and the home of its architectural studies and design program.

Encompassed in colossal windows capturing light from all angles, the new Sheila Johnson Design Center, located at the Eaton Street entrance of Morrisville State College, was unveiled during an opening and dedication on March 4.

During the event, the center was formally named the Sheila Johnson Design Center after noted philanthropist and entrepreneur, Sheila C. Johnson, a benefactor and longtime supporter of the college.

“This naming recognizes Sheila Johnson's generosity and positive impact on Morrisville and the lives of so many students,” SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, said. “This center is the approximation of a dream and the execution of strategies that will transform this region and state.”

“We are honored to name this new building after a woman whose philanthropy continues to influence the college and its students,” Rich Carreno, interim president, said.

“Sheila's generosity has meant so much to our students over the years,” said Anne Englot, professor of architectural studies and design and chair of the Engineering Technologies Department.

One of those students, Julio Torres Santana, a 2007 graduate of the architectural studies and design program and native of the Dominican Republic, spoke on students' behalf, thanking Johnson for all she has done for the program, which helped elevate his career.

“Thank you for believing in us (students),” Torres said to Johnson. “Seeing the way this architectural program has developed is surreal. I never thought I would be in the position to add to the evolution of this program.”

Torres will be spreading his wings even farther—in the Dominican Republic where he has been assigned to build the first Latin baseball hall of fame.

After he graduated from Morrisville State College, Torres earned a bachelor degree from Cornell University where he was named one of the 20 most dynamic members of the Class of 2010. Recently, he was rewarded with national recognition receiving a $25,000 grant from AOL as part of their 25 for 25 Grant Program which recognizes tomorrows ground breakers and visionaries.

Like Torres, the program has opened doors for many students.

“Our graduates are already making their mark upon the world,” said Chris Cring, dean of the School of Science and Technology. “They are in practice working in architectural firms around the country and they are students in some of the nation's leading schools of architecture.”

A plaque will be hung in the new center acknowledging Johnson.

“Thank you for this honor. It is a true privilege,” Johnson said. “I'm astounded by the building and so proud to be associated with Morrisville State College.”

During the event, guests had a chance to tour the new facility and meet the architectural and construction teams. They also had the opportunity to view student projects and an exhibition detailing the unique history behind a vision that transformed a historic barn once filled with hay, calves and a milking parlor into a 25,000 square-foot center, now filled with studios, classrooms, offices, and soaring galleries for students in the college's two-year architectural studies and design program. The space will be shared with a new bachelor of architecture degree that's awaiting approval and an interior design program planned for the future.

Work began on the center four years ago with removal of the barn, which at one time was located at the center of campus. Inside, a stair and elevator core within a broken cylinder, allude to feed silos of the former building, and some interior finishes from the barn's original siding remain. The silhouette of the former dairy barn is still visible and is now framed in steel and glass to capture ideal northern light.

The new space is shining a lot of opportunity on architectural faculty and students who moved out of the program's former home in the basement of Hamilton Hall, just in time for the start of a new semester. The state-of-the-art insulated space provides an inclusive environment where architectural ideas can soar amid 32-foot ceilings.

Designed by internationally acclaimed architects, Perkins Eastman, and built by Hueber-Breuer Construction Co., Inc., the commanding building welcomes visitors with a dramatic vaulted and double-height entrance atrium and a gallery that displays students' work.

Alluring elements include dramatic arches, interlocking spaces and a double-height studio, a mezzanine-level studio suspended above the second floor, and four studios that envelop students in vast space and light.

A wood shop where students build small-scale models of wood buildings and fabricate shelter projects for class, and a digital production and photo area soon to be equipped with universal laser cutter and rapid prototyping machines, are cutting-edge elements that further add to the 21st century charm of the environment.

“We tried to replicate, as much as possible, the technology students will be exposed to in architectural firms,” Englot said.

Green Features

Additionally appealing—the building is green—as in sustainable.

Green features have been incorporated throughout, down to the water-based finish on the wood. The building is awaiting LEED (Leadership in Energy and the Environmental Design) gold certification, which means it's an environmentally sustainable center from the materials from which it is made, and materials, methods used to construct it, and the systems that heat and cool it.

Sustainable elements include low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emitting interior paints and finishes, and Energy Star 50-year certified architectural shingles on the roof.

Less visible cutting-edge sustainable elements incorporated in its design are geothermal heat pump wells for heating and cooling, energy efficient user-controlled lighting, indoor air quality monitoring, insulated low E glass with argon filling at the north end to increase insulation, and low energy consumption and energy-efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) controls.

The new center is paving the way for many opportunities and growth.

Ward, of East Hampton, in Long Island, is among students taking advantage of the new building and all the architectural studies and design program has to offer.

He's come a long way from building Lego creations with his 20 siblings as a child, to setting his sights on eventually designing houses for clients, incorporating their personalities into his buildings.

“I love the openness of this new building and how everything in it is giving us a personal experience in architecture.”

The center's also creating a lot of buzz in class, providing faculty with plenty of teaching opportunities.

They're illustrating sustainable design concepts like day lighting and interlocking space, and technology including the geothermal heat pump wells and energy-efficient HVAC controls, and materials such as poured-in-place concrete walls with fly ash content and recycled steel, in their lessons.

“Though it resembles a barn from the exterior, the interior is actually a sophisticated interplay of diverse volumes,” Englot said. “There are two story spaces on the first and second levels with soaring cathedral ceilings that interlock with single story spaces and a mezzanine level that is pulled away from the side walls so that space slips through and the wall surface continues.

“These are things we talk about in design and show students when we get to travel, but it is great to have a building on campus that has this kind of spatial interest,” she said.

Morrisville State College's architecture program is opening a lot of other doors for students. In addition to academics, students travel to significant architecture sites, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, interact with national speakers who come to lecture and conduct workshops and exhibit their work at local art venues, including the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, N.Y.

Sheila C. Johnson is an entrepreneur and philanthropist whose accomplishments span the arenas of hospitality, sports, TV/film, the arts, education and humanitarian causes. Johnson is CEO of Salamander Hospitality, LLC, a company she founded in 2005. She oversees a growing portfolio of luxury properties including Woodlands Inn in Summerville, S.C., Innisbrook, a 72-hole Golf & Spa Resort in Innisbrook, Fla. and the much-anticipated Salamander Resort & Spa, currently being constructed in Middleburg, Va.

As vice chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment and president and managing partner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics, Johnson is the first African-American woman to have a stake in three professional sports teams including the Washington Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Capitals (NHL).

As a founding partner of BET (Black Entertainment Television), she pioneered modern television programming and created the award-winning program Teen Summit, an issues-oriented talk show for the network's youth viewers. Currently, Johnson produces films that convey a strong humanitarian message, with completed projects including Kicking It, A Powerful Noise, She Is The Matador and her latest film, The Other City, about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Washington D.C.

In 2006, Johnson was named global ambassador for CARE, a leading aid organization fighting global poverty by empowering women. Johnson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves as chair of the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design in New York. A fervent supporter of the arts and education, Johnson was recently selected by Gov. Bob McDonnell to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. Additionally, President Obama appointed her to the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and she sits on the boards of Sundance Institute Board of Trustees, Americans for the Arts, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Tiger Woods Foundation, the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, Howard University, and the University of Illinois Foundation.

An accomplished violinist, Johnson earned a bachelor of arts degree in music from the University of Illinois, as well as honorary degrees from numerous other institutions. She lives in Middleburg, Va., is married to the Honorable William T. Newman, Jr. and has two children.

Perkins Eastman is among the top architecture and design firms in the world. The firm prides itself on inventive and compassionate design that enhances the quality of the human experience. Because of its depth and range, Perkins Eastman takes on assignments from niche buildings to complex projects that enrich whole communities.

Founded in 1880 and currently managed by the fifth generation, Hueber-Breuer Construction Company, Inc. is presently the largest, continuously operating, family owned general construction/construction management company in Central New York. Hueber-Breuer's ancestors determined long ago that in order to maintain a quality reputation, they needed to make a lasting and positive impact by providing exceptional buildings. Hueber-Breuer's extensive list of completed projects and satisfied customers is testimony to their dedication to improve the community's quality of life.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and the Environmental Design): is an internationally recognized certification system that measures how well a building performs across environmental metrics including energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.