Open university

Decade-old master plan adds urban elements to historic campus

The new Arts and Humanities Building (far left) sits across the breezeway from the Performing Arts Center along Chico State’s pedestrian promenade.

The new Arts and Humanities Building (far left) sits across the breezeway from the Performing Arts Center along Chico State’s pedestrian promenade.

photo by tina flynn

This newspaper ran a story in 2008 that listed Chico’s top 10 eyesores. Included was Chico State’s Performing Arts Center, the backside of which still presents a big, windowless wall to downtown’s West Second Street.

“It’s almost as if the building is snubbing the city of Chico,” the article reads. “Of course, that sentiment isn’t true.” The PAC wasn’t built with its back turned; the campus has changed around it. Its frontside faces the university’s pedestrian promenade, a section of West First Street that was still open to downtown traffic when construction was completed in 1967.

Still, it’s always been one of retired Chico State President Paul Zingg’s least favorite buildings. “I wanted buildings that are open through design, that signify pride in being part of the city,” he said recently by phone from his new home in Danville.

The university’s recent construction projects are more welcoming to the surrounding community, he said. For instance, the promenade—cutting a broad path through the south side of campus from a stone entrance near Celestino’s New York Pizza to the Wildcat Recreation Center (WREC)—was designed to be a social center and interface with downtown.

“We wanted the campus to be distinctive in its own right yet more connected to the city, so folks would have a sense of having arrived on the campus, but it would be an easy and natural transition,” he said. “We wanted to extend the social atmosphere from downtown to the university.”

The promenade is one of many construction projects outlined in Chico State’s Master Plan 2005 and completed during Zingg’s tenure. Since it was near its final draft when he became president in 2004, Zingg didn’t have much of a hand in crafting the document, which provides principles and guidelines for the campus’ physical development. He did implement it, however, and oversaw marked changes to the campus over the next 12 years.

The master plan had several general goals, Zingg explained. One was to support growing enrollment with contemporary, energy-efficient student spaces while complementing the historic quarter’s red-brick buildings—Kendall Hall, Laxson Auditorium, Ayres Hall and Trinity Hall. As such, both the Student Services Center, which opened on the corner of Second and Ivy streets in 2008, and the Sutter Hall complex, the dormitory and dining hall that went up on Legion Avenue in 2010, incorporate those signature red-brick elements into overall modern designs.

Another was to accent buildings with public art, such as hiring artist John Pugh to re-create his celebrated Academe—the trompe l’oeil-style mural that gives the illusion of a hole in the building that reveals a Greek edifice. Pugh originally painted the piece as a Chico State student in 1981 on the now-demolished Taylor Hall. His re-creation, finished last year, is in nearly the same spot on the new Arts and Humanities Building (aka Taylor II).

“Clearly, that’s a pretty powerful statement about the importance of the arts for the university, and that the arts are part of what makes Chico so attractive,” Zingg said.

The master plan also emphasized open layouts. Take, for example, the Arts and Humanities Building, one of the first structures visitors see upon entering the promenade from downtown. It has an interior courtyard and floor-to-ceiling windows on the upper stories facing Kendall Hall. Unlike the PAC, passersby can see what’s happening inside through windows facing West Second Street, Zingg said.

The same goes for the opposite end of the promenade, where the WREC opened in fall 2009 as a state-of-the-art workout facility for students. The weightlifting area and group classrooms on the second floor are visible from the outside through glass walls.

Visually, at least, both buildings are open to the broader community.

Many of the buildings in the master plan were state-funded. Some of the exceptions include the WREC, paid for by student fees and $5 million from the university’s coffers; the Gateway Science Museum, buoyed by private donations and a state grant; the Normal Street Parking Structure, funded by a variety of sources, including parking fees; and Sutter Hall, with the bulk of its funding through housing fees.

What’s up next? The master plan outlines a project to tear down the existing Siskiyou Hall, the one-story science building to the north of Meriam Library, and replace it with an ultra-modern, four-story structure. Elsewhere on campus, the plan calls for a new child care center and extensive recreational aquatic complex.

The master plan is updated every decade or so, Zingg said, which means his successor, President Gayle Hutchinson, may soon set about making her own mark on the university. Into the future, he hopes Hutchinson will mind the symbiotic relationship between Chico State and the city of Chico.

“A big reason that Chico State is attractive to students is its proximity to downtown,” Zingg said, “and a big reason for the success of the city is its connection to campus.”