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Sylvania Campus’ College Center makes an entrance with new “front door”

Photos and Story by

  • College Center's new East Entry atrium with Welcoming Pole. May 12, 2015. Photo by Katherine Miller
  • Richard Hunt's restoration of the totem repaired the damage it sustained from years of standing outdoors in the elements.
  • PCC Bond Program Director Linda Degman said the atrium has transformed what previously was unusable outdoor space.
  • The atrium's generous windows allowed the audience to enjoy the bright and airy atmosphere even on a cloudy day.
  • Sylvania's interim President Suzanne Johnson noted that the bond program is investing $62 million into PCC's oldest campus.
  • Native American drummers filled the atrium with a vibrant sound in honor of the event.
  • First Nations artist Richard Hunt carved the Welcoming Pole from a single red cedar log using traditional methods.
  • The Welcoming Pole was relocated inside the new atrium after being restored by the artist who first created it for PCC Sylvania.
  • PCC Sylvania's community recently gathered to celebrate the opening of College Center's new east entry atrium.

It’s been a work in progress for months, but at long last Sylvania’s Amo DeBernadis College Center (CC) has a “front door” and entry befitting a pivotal and heavily used building.

The new entry, funded by the bond measure approved by voters in 2008, features a dramatic two-story atrium framed with a half-dozen soaring wooden trusses that support massive glass panels. The expanse of glass floods the atrium with light and allows the campus’ newly relocated totem, the “Welcoming Pole,” to be seen both from inside and out.

The Sylvania community recently gathered in the atrium for its grand opening, complete with traditional Native American drummers who filled the space with their powerful and vibrant songs. College leaders, including Sylvania’s interim President Suzanne Johnson, delivered remarks.

Johnson noted that the Bond Program is investing more than $62 million into improvements for Sylvania, which is the largest and oldest campus at Portland Community College. The bond work has affected nearly every building on campus and included everything from seismic upgrades to a new central boiler system.

“We may not have the shiny new buildings of Cascade Campus, but what we have is just as important,” said Johnson.

“The campus has really been lacking a front door, and that was really the sole purpose behind this design,” said Gary Sutton, project manager at Sylvania. “The entry that used to be there didn’t look any different from any other entry on the building.”

Heather Lang, dean of student development, agreed. “The College Center is the heart of the campus and has all of the student services, administration and more, and so it made sense that we have a front door presence,” she said.

That presence now includes Sylvania’s prized Welcoming Pole, a traditional totem that was hand-carved for the campus in 2001 by fourth-generation Kwa-Gulth (Kwakiutl) artist Richard Hunt of British Columbia. The totem was originally sited in a grove of fir trees on the north side of campus, where it welcomed visitors and served as a reminder of the school’s cultural awareness of indigenous people.

However, years of exposure to the elements – and voracious woodpeckers – had damaged the totem. So the college asked Hunt to restore it to its former glory before it was installed in its new home inside CC. There it will be protected from the elements and appreciated by a larger audience.

“We had to provide a space that would not crowd the totem visually,” said GBD Architects’ Keith Skille. And given the totem’s significance, “to have it in the position in the new front door to the CC building is a logical location.”

Not only does the new entry showcase the Welcoming Pole and provide a suitable front door for CC, it also provides 1,400 square feet of flexible, multipurpose space for events and gatherings. Permanent seating areas are being considered as well.

Linda Degman, director of PCC’s Bond Program, said that the new atrium has turned what previously was unusable outdoor space into a valuable addition for CC.

“This would not have happened without an enormous amount of collaboration between the campus constituencies and leadership, the Bond Program and its architects and contractors,” she said. “Standing in this space today confirms that together we found a winning solution that fits within scale and budget and fulfills many competing needs, goals and desires.”

According to Sutton, the east entry’s central location posed significant challenges for the construction crew.

“We had occupied space on all three sides of us. To the south we had swing space being used by the SS group. To the north we had the advising and counseling offices. To the west we had open mall area that was being used by students for general use. And to the east we had an open walkway where we had people walking back and forth along the outside face of the building.

“So the trickiest part was logistics; just getting materials in there and being able to do the work while mitigating noise and dust and things like that,” he said.

The final result has already made an impact on the campus community, among them Heather Lang.

“I am thrilled, because the architects were able to incorporate something that looks like it belongs and has been part of Sylvania,” she said. “It has the very naturalistic elements of the wood and the light that I think really fit our environment at the campus.

“And I think for us, bringing in the Welcoming Pole symbolizes that we are a welcoming campus, that we really embrace diversity, and that we embrace our roots and sustainability. Those are a part of the values of the Sylvania Campus.”

PCC’s 2008 voter-approved $374 million bond program is increasing opportunities for residents to access quality, affordable higher education close to where they live and work. Additional classrooms, updated equipment and technology, and advanced workforce training programs are helping to pave the way for future employment options. For more information, visit www.pcc.edu/about/bond/about.


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