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The University of Portland's newest academic building features classic design, high-tech touches

COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Dundon-Berchtold Hall, the newest building on the University of Portlands campus, serves as the home of the Dundon-Berchtold Institute for Moral Formation and Applied Ethics. The $34 million cost for the project was covered by more than 25 individual donations, the largest of which came from Amy Dundon-Berchtold and her husband Jim Berchtold.

In summer 2017, the University of Portland demolished a 90-year-old building to make way for a new structure on the school's campus in North Portland.

Built in 1927, Howard Hall had served the university well as an all-purpose gym. By the time its date with the wrecking ball arrived, however, Howard Hall had fallen into "terrible disrepair," according to Reverend Mark L. Poorman, the university's president. The building was in such sad shape, it would often be bypassed during tours with students who were considering enrolling at the university

"We would tell prospective students, 'This is Howard Hall, but we don't have time to go in there,'" Poorman said with a chuckle.

Dundon-Berchtold Hall, the three-story brick-and-limestone building that replaced Howard Hall, has only been open since the end of August. Its classic collegiate Gothic design, however, blends seamlessly with nearby buildings like Waldschmidt Hall, the oldest structure on the university's North Portland campus. While the new building's interior offers additional timeless details — from a student lounge with a fireplace to granite window sills — the structure also features high-tech touches such as automatic window shades and state-of-the-art heating and cooling systems.

The combination of high ceilings, warm wood and abundant natural light already have made the building one of the more popular on campus with both students and faculty, Dr. Tom Greene, a professor who also serves as the university's provost, told the Business Tribune.

"It's warm and comfortable, and folks just want to be in here," he said.

"Now, when we take students out on admissions tours, (Dundon-Berchtold Hall) is where we start," said Poorman.

An institute for ethics

While the new building was made possible through contributions from more than 24 donors, the largest share of money came from Amy Dundon-Berchtold, a member of the university's Board of Regents, and her husband, Jim Berchtold.

COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Amy Dundon-Berchtold, a University of Portland Board of Regents member, and her husband, university alumnus Jim Berchtold, receive a standing ovation during an event celebrating the opening of Dundon-Berchtold Hall. The couple provided a main donation that made construction of the building possible.

After graduating from the University of Portland in 1963, Berchtold went on to highly accomplished careers in telecommunications and banking. Dundon-Berchtold, meanwhile, had equally successful careers as a real estate entrepreneur and investor, and at one time was known as one of the few women working in the commercial real estate industry in Southern California's Orange County.

The couple's donation to construct the new building named in their honor is their latest in a string of philanthropic efforts at the university. Their first significant donation came after they learned about the Character Project, an undergraduate ethics class that Poorman teaches

"(In the Character Project) we talk about a whole series of things that culminate in personal character development. We talk about values, decision making, habits, virtue, vices — it's a sort of personal narrative that unfolds over the course of a semester," Poorman said. "Amy and Jim were very taken with that as something consistent with the values they have about ethics. They've seen firsthand (that) professions need to be more than just executing well the technicalities of the profession. You really have a moral core, a moral compass."

The couple provided a donation for materials as well as dinner each time the class met. As they continued to talk with Poorman, they decided to give a series of scholarships and fellowships for students and faculty to work together on projects of ethics in areas such as engineering and nursing. Those programs became part of the Dundon-Berchtold Institute for Moral Formation and Applied Ethics, created as the result of another donation from the couple.

Eventually, the couple offered to help create an academic building to serve as the formal home of the Institute. As more donors came on board to help reach the $34 million needed to construct the building that would become Dundon-Berchtold Hall, the university's administration began the next step to make the project a reality.

Fitting in

In a city where steel and glass towers now dominate the skyline, university administrators were looking for a different type of design for Dundon-Berchtold Hall.COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Dundon-Berchtold Halls main floor lounge, featuring a gas fireplace and a bay window that overlooks a new commons area, has quickly become a favorite hang-out for students.

They knew they wanted something that would blend with the existing structures on campus — especially those closest to the new building. Waldschmidt Hall, across from the new building, for example, was built in 1891. They also wanted the building to provide students and faculty with access to the latest technology while also upholding the university's commitment to sustainability.

The challenge for the university was finding an architectural firm that understood and shared that vision.

University administrators invited several local architecture firms to interview, a group that included Soderstrom Architects. When Soderstrom arrived for its interview, however, it didn't come alone. Instead, the firm brought along Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

More commonly known in design circles as RAMSA, the New York City-based firm specializes in educational building designs that blend classical approaches with modern touches. The firm's designs are found in buildings on the campuses of top-tier schools such as Harvard and Stanford.

"This is really their forte, doing a building like (Dundon-Berchtold Hall) — not only the exterior but the detail on the inside," Jim Ravelli, the university's director of operations, told the Business Tribune. "That's really what they brought to the table."

The Dundon-Berchtold project was RAMSA's first work in Oregon. Soderstrom, however, has a long history with the University of Portland and its buildings. The firm has been involved, for example, in designs for new construction such as the three-story, 226-bed Lund Family Hall residence building, as well as renovations of existing university buildings, including Donald P. Shiley Hall and the Clark Library.

According to Dan Danielson, president of Soderstrom, "The opportunity to combine state-of-the-art classrooms, offices and student interaction spaces within a signature building form, situated at the heart of the campus, drove our design decisions from the inception of the project."

Building blocks

When it came to finding the right general contractor for the project, a request for proposals led the university to Fortis Construction. Like Soderstrom, Fortis had worked on University of Portland projects in the past and had a proven track record of being able to keep a project on track and on budget.COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Dundon-Berchtold Hall features a classic collegiate Gothic design along with high-tech touches such as sensors that turn out lights in unoccupied spaces and automatic window shades.

"They came back with a great team to put this together," Ravelli said. "This was a building you don't see in Portland very often. You can't just put your run-of-the-mill folks on doing something like this. (Fortis stressed) how important being a part of this vision was to them ... to have this a part of their portfolio, and they knocked it out of the park."

Working with Fortis also gave the university a chance to see in action one of its former students who had graduated from the engineering program and taken a job with the construction company.

"It was nice to have him back on campus as part of the (Fortis) leadership team," Ravelli said.

The Fortis team and the project's subcontractors developed a strong sense of ownership related to the project, which Ravelli attributes to the realization that they were working on a building type that's rare to find rising in Portland these days.

"Most owners want to look to cut costs and value engineer as much as they can," he said. "Our approach was a little different. We wanted a building that was going to be here for generations and look like it had been here forever. For us, the attention to detail around all the wood, the granite sills, all the little touches, we think that made all the difference.

"Everyone from the bricklayers to the folks putting up the steel to the ones doing the finish carpentry and woodwork and everybody in between said they were thrilled to be a part of this project and it was very much a point of pride for their (companies)," he added.

The limestone, for example, was trucked in from Indiana, and the workers who handled it took extra care to during the offloading of the material.

"We didn't break a single piece of limestone," Ravelli said. "It was pretty amazing.

Going for the gold

While the new building's student lounge, with a big bay window overlooking the quad and the gas fireplace, has become a favorite hangout for students, it isn't the only highlight. The basement of the structure holds the Brian Doyle Auditorium, named in memory of the former editor of the university's award-winning Portland magazine, who died in May 2017. The 146-seat multipurpose space continues the old-meets-new design approach with white oak coffered ceilings combined with a high-tech digital wall screen.

Digital screens, which provide wayfinding and updates on campus events, also manage to mesh with the classic feel of a foyer on the main floor. COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - The 146-seat multipurpose Brian Doyle Auditorium in the basement of Dundon-Berchtold Hall, features white oak coffered ceilings and a high-tech digital screen.

The building is targeting a gold designation in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. When it earns that recognition, it will join an inventory of campus buildings that have earned silver, gold, and even coveted platinum LEED designations.

While Dundon-Berchtold Hall houses the university center for ethics, it also serves as an academic building. Its 17 classrooms have brought some much-needed relief when it comes to scheduling classes.

Before the construction of the new building, the university was running tight on space for classes. During the weekday hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., about 90% of the existing buildings on campus were in use. Many classes had to be shifted to evening hours.

"(Ninety percent) is a pretty high usage rate for an institution like ours," Greene said. "Now, we're around 60%."

In determining layouts for classrooms, the university took lessons learned from Franz Hall, another academic building that was completed in 1995, along with suggestions from faculty that would be teaching in the new building. The result is three different layouts.

Some classrooms are arranged like lecture halls with tiers of seating, others with flat floors and flexible furniture. Others allow quick transitions from rows to groups and back to rows.

Input from faculty members also played a big part in the layout of the 35 faculty offices found in the new building. University administrators knew they wanted to bypass the traditional approach of separating offices by disciplines and subjects. Instead, offices are mixed in a way that brings members together in ways they might not connect with a more traditional layout. COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Rev. Mark L. Poorman, president of the University of Portland, blesses Dundon-Berchtold Hall during dedication events on Sept. 26. Assisting him is Rev. Timothy Weed, program director for campus ministry.

"We didn't want to just have whole blocks of faculty," Poorman said. "We actually have different disciplines that are deployed throughout. It allows a level of collaboration we've never had (before)."

Faculty members, however, also wanted their offices to be located close to where students would hang out to make it easier for the two groups to connect and interact. Faculty and students have strong relationships, which administrators say contribute to the university's high retention and graduation rates. The university serves just under 4,000 undergrads and a little more than 300 graduate students. With the academic building up and running, the university is focusing on the new 35-acre Franz Campus being built along the Willamette River. When completed, the campus will feature a rowing center and boathouse, a tennis center, a new physical plant and an environmental science lab.

"It's architecture that facilitates relationships and facilitates strong interactions that are very much a variable in those kinds of successes," Greene said. "We're looking forward to greater rate success because we have greater facilities."

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