[caption id="attachment_67520" align="alignright" width="362"] The 130,000-square-foot student center at Sonoma State will accommodate needs such as dining, retail and meeting space. (image credit: Sonoma State University)[/caption]
ROHNERT PARK -- Nearly eight years in the making, Sonoma State University plans to open the doors of a three-story, 130,000-square-foot student center this August, creating a central hub for student activity and providing the largest conference and event space in Sonoma County.
The project, estimated to cost $62 million, will bring seven of the campus's eight restaurants under one roof and aggregate a currently disparate peppering of meeting spaces for student government, campus organizations and one-time events. The center will also host the school's bookstore and pub, and sit adjacent to the campus recreation center.
"It makes it hard to share ideas when you're all the way across campus," said Ryan Ernst, who helps direct the school's revenue-generating functions as its director of sales and marketing for entrepreneurial activities. "It's not the building, but it's what it allows to happen here."
[caption id="attachment_67521" align="alignleft" width="350"] The student center includes a number of common areas for student and visitors. (image credit: Sonoma State University)[/caption]
Above those meeting spaces, common areas and restaurants is a modular third-floor space that, at its largest configuration, opens to a 12,000-square-foot "grand ballroom." Mr. Ernst said having so much of that kind of space will fill a long-desired function for students and will help support the campus's busy conference season in conjunction with the recently opened Green Music Center.
"At the end of the day, Weill Hall is a concert hall," said Mr. Ernst, who also helps direct activities there. "Weill Hall, in a conference setting, might be where you have your grand opening or finale. The workhorse will be the student center. It has the breakout spaces and the dining."
It is the most recent project in a long-term transformation for Sonoma State, ranked as one of the most beautiful campuses in the country by TheBestColleges.org in 2012.
Under construction since fall 2011, the building is the latest student center--type project for San Francisco--based architecture firm Hornberger + Worstell. Planned to qualify for a LEED Silver designation, the Sonoma State University Student Center will utilize natural and energy-efficient lighting, recycled materials and other measures, said John Davis, principal in charge at the firm.
[caption id="attachment_67522" align="alignright" width="385"] The "grand ballroom" will have 12,000 square feet in its largest configuration. (image credit: Sonoma State University)[/caption]
The building also employs other efficiencies, like a central kitchen that serves the multiple surrounding restaurants and helps boost the campus's dining capacity from 900 to 1,400 people. Yet despite that centralized approach, Mr. Davis said that the design seeks to create numerous distinct areas and evoke a desire to explore.
"The building is organized in such a way that the open, welcoming nature is evident from the outside of the building," he said. "It looks like a string of spaces. It makes you want to explore more of it."
In embarking on the student center project, Sonoma State is joining a wave of change for campuses and student culture in the California State University system and beyond, Mr. Davis said. Many of those campuses were originally designed to serve students that would spend minimal leisure time on site. Changed student habits have inspired many schools to construct ambitious centers that accommodate those populations.