Bringing a modern feel to the Historic Riverside Building.
THE WHITE STONE STEPS TO THE TOP FLOOR OF THE RIVERSIDE BUILDING SHOW THE WEAR FROM COUNTLESS SHOES OVER DECADES. THE STEPS ARE SMOOTH, AND A BIT BOWED IN PLACES, REFLECTING THE LONG HISTORY OF THE LARGE BUILDING IN DOWNTOWN ROCHESTER.
The latest footsteps now come from hundreds of students from Winona State University who climb the staircase to the third floor regularly. “It’s kind of a coincidence,” says Jeanine E. Gangeness, associate vice president and dean of Winona State University’s School of Graduate Studies. “(Both) the building and Winona State University Rochester have been here for 100 years.”
At the top of the stairs, students are greeted with a modern skyline of Rochester drawn in bright purple, the school’s color. They circulate through large, open spaces and meet professors in glass-enclosed offices. There’s a soundproofed studio for podcasting. It has an ingrained history, but WSU-Rochester’s center atop the Riverside Building today is an engaging contemporary place.
When WSU remodeled the third floor in late summer and fall of 2016, Gangeness and the designers opened up the space. Now you can look through most walls; many are glass. In fact, “You can stand at the front desk and you can see actually (out the windows) all the way across the street,” says Travis Lange, manager of the project for general contractor Alvin E. Benike, Inc. and an architect by profession. Adding to the airy feel of the 6,300-square-foot space is an overhead skylight that beams into an atrium in the center of the building.
“The remodeling is designed to give students and faculty choices about how and where to do their work,” says Kathy Goodman of Schmidt Goodman Office Products, which supplied furnishings.
The new Riverside site, which opened to students for the spring term early in 2017, is one of two WSU campuses in Rochester. WSU selected the massive building largely because of convenient access for many students and for its location near Rochester’s core, Gangeness says.
Winona State University teaches graduate courses in majors such as nursing and education at the Riverside Building, as well as a number of professional certificates and other adult learning programs. Many classes are scheduled for working adults. “You’ll see this place hopping after 5 at night,” says Gangeness, the top WSU administrator for Rochester.
EQUIPPED WITH TECHNOLOGY
Faculty members essentially share a pool of five glass-enclosed offices, and there are a couple of similar workrooms set aside for students.
Classes, group brainstorming sessions or even community meetings might fit into the “boardroom.” A 24-foot-long desk dominates the room, and it’s big enough for 18 chairs. The room is equipped for video conferencing, which allows students to join in from their own homes. They can ask questions and participate through an interactive, two-way feed.
That remote access is a key feature built into the boardroom, the main classroom, and another smaller classroom in the WSU center, Gangeness says. On any day, perhaps half the class will be present on site, with the remainder logging in remotely. The technology is so important that WSU keeps a technician on duty during classes to troubleshoot any problems, she says.
MEETING AND SOLO SPACE
The main classroom, which seats about 40, is equipped for flexibility. For example, its chairs are movable on rollers, which allows for quick switches from a lecture setting to small groups. Then, after the formal class ends, students might flow out into one of three small group areas where they can work on projects or brainstorm.
Also available either for gathering or for solo study are two banks of high-top tables where students can sit on backless seats called “perching stools,” Goodman says. For real privacy, they can slip into a Brody WorkLounge, a personal pod with an ergonomic chair surrounded on three sides with a privacy screen. The chair also contains an adjustable table for a computer, plug outlets and a floating footrest. The cubicle is like a “little cocoon,” Goodman says. WSU-Rochester has two, and they are popular, Gangeness says.
While the renovation created a thoroughly modern look, the renovation architect–Adam Ferrari, who has since moved out of state–also kept some reminders of Riverside’s historic past. The large ductwork for air handling was refurbished and painted white to brighten the large space. Even the air handling overhead works to give an open atmosphere around students and faculty.
Lange, who previously worked as an architect for former third-floor tenant Holabird & Root, says the open ductwork, glass walls and large spaces all work together: “It feels like it’s an active space. It’s got energy to it,” he says.
Bob Freund is a Rochester-based writer and regular contributor to Rochester Women magazine.