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"Boulevard" Brings Collegiate Grandeur to Las Positas

Project by Gates + Associates

A renovation of the central core of the Las Positas Community College campus in Livermore, California, brought a new simplicity and elegance to the school's pedestrian paths. Designed by Gates + Associates, the focal point is a multipurpose lawn enclosed by ADA paths and swaths of native and climate adapted plantings.

Evolving out of the master planning for a larger campus, Gates + Associates recently completed the renovation of the central core of the Las Positas Community College campus in Livermore, California. The design replaced an outdated, under-functioning space with a design that integrates existing, new and planned future buildings along an updated, verdant and universally accessible pedestrian "Boulevard."

The primary objective for the project was to create a universally accessible heart of the campus that better reflects the needs and preferences of its users. Creating an environment that encourages faculty and students to linger and engage beyond the classroom is a key component of the college life experience, and is particularly important in a non-resident community college environment. To this end, a group of students, faculty and administrators was invited to participate in an interactive design charrette. The design team gathered input on campus character preferences and programming priorities for the space, and an online survey also allowed the broader campus community to provide input electronically. The results of this outreach informed the programming, structure and design character of the space.

The multipurpose plaza area functions as a circulation route, event space and social hub. During construction, on-site soils with high clay content were treated with lime for stability, and special care was taken to ensure soil treatments did not impact the health of the topsoil.

Based on survey results, the Boulevard area needed to accommodate both small and large outdoor events, including Club Day, Cuban Week, Drum Circle, the Native American Pow Wow, and the Veterans Picnic and Information Faire. Other goals identified for the project included defining the college brand, respecting the agrarian heritage of the area, providing outdoor classrooms and socializing spaces, accomplishing seamless ADA compliance, reducing maintenance requirements, providing emergency vehicle access and including sculpture and sensory elements.

The campus Boulevard creates a strong and easily legible circulation spine, punctuated by nodes of social spaces and focal elements. In front of the Science/Technology Building at the north entry to the Boulevard, preserved memorial palms honor former faculty. A plaza with granite seat pads within a bosque of Platanus acerifolia (London plan tree) creates a naturally shaded outdoor room. Nearby, water trickles over a distinctive granite fountain, made from California-sourced rock.

The plant palette provides a pleasant contrast to strong geometric forms and manicured lawn areas, including blue fescue and Mexican feather grass, alba rose, coastal rosemary and non-fruiting olives, as well as alternating bands of star jasmine and lyme grass framed by gray rush.

Surrounded by seat pads, the fountain is a dramatic focal point and informal gathering area. Such landmarks become important parts of the campus life experience and often feature prominently in college memories. Students might make arrangements to meet at the fountain to study together or may choose to read quietly while enjoying the relaxing sound of the water on a warm spring day. Several additional small seating nodes are provided with groups of seat pads next to and across from the library. Moveable tables, some with umbrellas and some without, are scattered throughout the design to provide flexible outdoor eating, study and socializing areas.

The hardscape of the Boulevard creates a circulation spine linking the Science/Technology Building, Student Services and Administration Building and Library. The spine also accommodates a 20-foot emergency vehicle access route and provides sufficient plaza space for a wide range of small and larger scale outdoor events.

A second "dry" fountain is located further along the Boulevard to the east. This piece echoes the granite used in the wet fountain but instead of water, the rock is joined by a native oak and underplanted with flowing native grasses. The juxtaposition of hard and soft, organic and inorganic, creates a visually engaging sculptural element and an additional social node and landmark for the campus.

A broad cement staircase leads to the tree-lined "Boulevard" and provides a sense of collegiate grandeur.

The challenging topography on the site is overcome and celebrated within the design. The large staircase at the east end of the Boulevard addresses the steep topography and creates a grand entrance to the Boulevard from nearby parking. An arc of Olea europaea (olives) surrounds the circular terrace at the top of the staircase. Dramatic vistas of the Livermore hills can be enjoyed from this vantage point.

A new eight-foot wide path makes a wide arc from the lower central hardscape areas to the top of the grand staircase. The path's gentle curve allows for a slope that is universally accessible and simplifies a previously cluttered array of walks that were not ADA compliant. The arc encloses a newly created usable open green, made possible by the removal of the existing network of paths and recontouring excessively steep slopes.

Planting & Irrigation
The open green is planted with Quercus virginiana (southern live oak) that will mature to large sprawling shade trees. The green is edged with a bank of decorative planting, featuring drought tolerant species adapted to the local climate. Plants include Lavadula dentata (French lavender), Rhamnus (dwarf coffeeberry), Westringia fruticosa (coastal rosemary), Carex divulsa (Berkeley sedge), Festuca glauca (blue fescue), and Rosa meidiland (meidiland rose).

The grand staircase is set within Berkeley sedge, Siskiyou blue fescue and other contemporary California plants requiring low to moderate watering. Compliance with California's strict landscape water ordinance was reached with drought-tolerant softscape and a high-efficiency weather-based irrigation system.

Project Team
Landscape Architects:
Gates + Associates, San Ramon, CA
Chabot-Las Positas Community College District
Douglas Horner
Educational Services, Planning and Facilities
Civil Engineer:
Sandis, Oakland, CA
Electrical Engineer:
Interface Engineering, San Francisco, CA
On Site Construction Management:
Parsons Brinckerhoff
Ann Kroll
Antioch, CA
Suarez & Munoz Construction, Inc.
Ed Suarez
Hayward, CA

A non-fruiting olive set within large sections of black granite and waves of Mexican feather grass create a natural and multi-textured sculpture. Shaded picnic tables provide comfortable places to study while enjoying the sounds of the water fountain.

The planting and irrigation design complies with California's AB 1881, a landscape ordinance mandated by the state aimed at minimizing the use of landscape irrigation water. Key elements of the irrigation strategy include the use of a drought-tolerant plant palette and a high-efficiency weather-based irrigation system.

The gently arced path provides a comfortable and ADA accessible transition between the lower and upper portions of the campus. Oaks will grow to provide ample shade for the open green. Crepe myrtles in decomposed granite bands line the path that links the two sides of the space. Benches and granite seat pads provide individual and small group seating.

cWater cascading over black granite creates a natural, distinctive focal point. White granite seat pads provide a natural and highly durable seating option. They also stay relatively cool in the hot Central Valley sun. The light concrete also minimizes heat gain in hot summers.

A number of challenges arose over the course of this project. Existing utilities and emergency vehicle access requirements constrained planting areas and tree location. On-site soils had high clay content and were treated with lime for construction stability. Special care was taken to ensure soil treatment did not impact the health of topsoil in planting areas. Additionally, the campus remained open during the entire construction period. Construction was carefully phased to maintain safe routes through the campus. Fencing, lighting and fliers informing students of activities and illustrating safe circulation routes were all used to ensure safe and successful implementation.

Flexible individual and group seating encourages students to linger and socialize, and pink strip flax and blue fescue provide a colorful contrast to the hardscape.

A thoughtfully designed mix of accessible circulation, outdoor rooms, flexible event spaces and focal elements all work together to create a textured and inviting campus core for Las Positas College. With this renovation, a locally appropriate plant palette and natural materials, such as granite, have converted this campus into a contemporary California landscape. The outdated and visually cluttered campus is simplified with strong geometries and a clear, universally accessible circulation network, and along with open hardscape and lawn areas for group events and ceremonies, rich sculptural elements, tree-enclosed outdoor rooms and small group seating nodes create intimate areas for social interaction and provide human-scale warmth.

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August 18, 2019, 12:52 am PDT

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