Campus Transformation

We usually go beyond bricks and mortar to highlight the teaching and research that occur inside campus buildings. Yet there’s an undeniable connection: A research university with global impact must have top-notch – and well-equipped – facilities to spark the creativity, discovery, and innovation central to its mission. Here, we highlight the Top 10 projects in a recent building boom that has transformed campus and has positioned the University and its students for the future.

Haven’t been to campus in a while? You’re in for a surprise.

In the past dozen years, from 2007 to 2019, Colorado State has invested $1.85 billion in new and improved facilities and infrastructure – an unprecedented building boom that has remade campus, adding 5 million square feet for teaching, research, student housing, and public engagement.

Financing the boom has been notable in itself, with dozens of construction projects coming on the heels of the Great Recession and in an era when state funding for public higher education has declined in Colorado and nationwide.

Though each project is different, financing overall was accomplished through a mix of philanthropic donations, student-approved facility fees, University general funds, and bonding against expected revenues from facility use. Through the course of intense construction, the University has maintained its independent credit ratings from Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investor Services, key indicators of financial stability and strong capacity to meet credit obligations.

Philanthropy has been crucial to the recent transformation – a more prominent factor in underwriting campuswide construction than ever before, Lynn Johnson, vice president for University operations, noted. About 10 percent of the $1.85 billion investment has come from donations, she said. Several projects have relied heavily on gifts from individuals and businesses and would not have occurred without them. That includes Canvas Stadium and the attached Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center, the No. 1 project on the Top 10; notably, the new football stadium was built without a penny from students. Gifts likewise were essential to constructing the C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute, the Suzanne and Walter Scott, Jr. Bioengineering Building, a major addition to the Michael Smith Natural Resources Building, and the Nancy Richardson Design Center, among other marquee facilities for teaching, research, and outreach.

Students also have been essential to the transformation. In 2005, the University Facility Fee Advisory Board formed to represent the CSU student body in decisions about fees assessed to all enrolled students for construction and renovation of academic buildings. The student board has recommended a fee of $20.75 per credit hour to raise funds for capital construction. To date, the board has allocated about $215 million to prominent projects, making students decisive partners in the modern building boom.

With more than 90 individual projects, the modern boom is the most striking physical change on campus since the last construction burst, between 1954 and 1968. That was under the leadership of President William E. Morgan, who steered Colorado A&M into Colorado State University and set the course for its evolution into a top-tier research institution. The midcentury construction wave mirrored those at state universities nationwide; it spread campus west from the historic Oval, erecting big, utilitarian, concrete buildings to accommodate incoming baby boomers and an enrollment that spiked nearly 250 percent, from 4,500 to 15,400 students, in less than 15 years.

The Morgan era also left behind a master plan that has influenced recent construction. It delineated the “Great Green,” CSU’s answer to Central Park, as a defining aspect of campus, ensuring swaths of lawn for student recreation and open views of the Rocky Mountains. The plan set residence halls apart from academic buildings so that students, while ambling to class, could contemplate the world and what they were learning.

Beginning in the 1990s, President Albert Yates and his team refocused on the campus master plan; their work added coherence to languishing project plans and set critical priorities that led to the current building boom.

Going back to September 1879, the first students started classes at the State Agricultural College of Colorado in the Main Building, constructed for $8,800 on a virtually treeless plain on the southwest corner of College Avenue and Laurel Street. Later known as Old Main, that first stately brick building burned down under mysterious circumstances in 1970.

It’s as if the ashes of Old Main alighted across campus to seed the new buildings for a University population that has steadily grown to include nearly 35,000 total students and 7,600 faculty and staff. The structures have sprung up with a uniform aesthetic of steel, glass, brick, and stone, landscaped with native plants, and in many cases highly rated for energy efficiency. Each building is designed to encourage a strong sense of academic community, with airy study, gathering, and work spaces.

Some of the recent change, led by former President Tony Frank, reflects the University’s efforts to recruit and retain students with facilities that support robust campus life. These include a glass-walled library addition with welcoming study spots; renovations that boost the student center as a hub of activity; an expanded recreation center with a climbing wall and spin studio; and new residential villages with swanky dining halls featuring a Mongolian grill, kosher bistro, and salad and waffle bars. Say buh-bye to the dorm cafeterias of yesteryear.

And construction continues, with significant projects on the horizon; among them, a new residential village, agricultural sciences building, and equine hospital.

Separately, the CSU System is gearing up to construct a campus of three buildings – housing programs focused on food, water, environmental sustainability, and health – at the forthcoming National Western Center in North Denver; much of the programming is tied to the Fort Collins campus.

Here are the Top 10 projects in the recent campus building boom, based on total project budget.

Photo of Sonny Lubick Field at Canvas Stadium, Colorado State University

Canvas Stadium

$238.5 million
812,000 square feet
Completed Summer 2017
A major multipurpose facility, encompassing the soaring new football stadium; a spacious meeting and events center available for public use; and a wing for classrooms and student services. The new Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center, an expansive welcome center with engaging displays, is attached. Designed to dramatically enhance student life and visitor engagement on campus.

Photo: Christy Radecic Photography

Aerial view of Aggie Village North

Aggie Village North

$111 million
430,000 square feet
Completed Summer 2016
A complex of three apartment buildings offering a total of 431 furnished units for undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scholars. Each unit has a full kitchen. Certified LEED Gold.

Photo: Colorado State University

Lory Student Center and Theatre

Lory Student Center and Student Center Theatre

$76 million
225,000 square feet
Completed Fall 2014
Project involved significant renovation and an addition to a key gathering point in the heart of campus, enhancing multiple dining, studying, meeting, special events, art exhibition, student government, and student-services spaces essential to campus life. Certified LEED Silver.

Photo: Colorado State University

C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute

C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute

$73 million
128,000 square feet
Completed Winter 2018
An innovation hub on South Campus to spur research, development, and commercialization of new medical therapies for animal and human disease, emphasizing biological treatments that recruit the body’s own resources for healing; with continuing education programming for veterinarians and medical doctors. Major funding from philanthropists John and Leslie Malone and Princess Abigail K. Kawananakoa of Hawaii.

Photo: Colorado State University

Biology Building

Biology Building

$70 million
152,000 square feet
Completed Summer 2017
About 60 percent of CSU undergraduates take at least one biology course; this new building is for them, with airy classrooms, laboratories, advising offices, study and gathering spaces – and museum-quality displays of biological specimens to inspire inquiry and discovery. Certified LEED Gold.

Photo: Hord Coplan Macht

Suzanne and Walter Scott, Jr. Bioengineering Building

Suzanne and Walter Scott, Jr. Bioengineering Building

$68 million
122,000 square feet
Completed Winter 2014
Includes classrooms, teaching labs, design studios, and research space for biomedical engineering, bioanalytic devices, synthetic biology, and environmental engineering; also houses the dean’s office for the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. Major funding from philanthropists Suzanne and Walter Scott Jr. CSU students, represented by the University Facility Fee Advisory Board, contributed $30 million. Certified LEED Gold.

Photo: Hord Coplan Macht

Chemistry Research Building

Chemistry Research Building

$57 million
61,000 square feet
Completed Summer 2017
A research facility housing laboratories focused on materials chemistry, inorganic and polymer chemistry, synthetic organic chemistry, and chemical biology. The only building in the Top 10 with major funding directly from the state of Colorado. Certified LEED Platinum.

Photo: Colorado State University

Health and Medical Center

$56 million
161,000 square feet
Completed Summer 2017
The center remakes the intersection of College Avenue and Prospect Road, providing a single site for medical, optical, dental, mental health, and health education and prevention services for CSU students. UCHealth and Associates in Family Medicine are tenants, offering medical services to the public. Also houses academic programs in nutrition and healthy aging. Coming soon: a branch of the University of Colorado Medical School. Certified LEED Silver.

Photo: Colorado State University

Research Innovation Center

Research Innovation Center

$52 million
72,000 square feet
Completed Summer 2010

This research facility, on Foothills Campus, functions as an accelerator for companies in the life sciences. It promotes collaboration among University and private-sector scientists, with offices, state-of-the-art laboratories, and access to specialized R&D amenities. Several tenants are startups developing technologies to thwart infectious disease. Certified LEED Gold.

Photo: James McCory Photography

Laurel Village

Laurel Village

$46.2 million
198,500 square feet
Completed Summer 2014

A redevelopment project that built Alpine and Piñon halls, which house 615 CSU students; many are in the College of Natural Sciences learning community. The new halls are part of a residential village that includes the upgraded Durrell Dining Center and the Pavilion, a student community center. Cool stuff at the Pavilion: miniature ski slope, bike shop, and katabatic tower that uses gravity to cool air. Certified LEED Gold; the Pavilion is LEED Platinum.

Photo: Colorado State University