June 12, 2017

In 1985, a New York Times reporter described the newly opened Harold Walter Siebens School of Business/Siebens Forum as “an academic wonderland”.

Affectionately known as the Forum, the facility provided modern dining facilities, a ballroom, smaller meeting rooms for receptions and public events, a student center, and a state-of-the-art computer center. Visitors came from across the county to view this remarkable underground facility. Harold Walter Siebens, whose $18 million challenge gift inspired alumni and friends of Buena Vista to contribute an additional $9 million, helped set a new course for the beloved school.

According to the History of Buena Vista University by William H. Cumberland, building a modern campus would be one of the defining features of not only former President Keith Briscoe’s era, but even more so during President Fred Moore’s administration.

Meeting student needs

While the Forum continues to be a handsome, structurally sound and well-maintained facility, it is not operating as the student center that today’s students require it to be. Other than general maintenance and some infrastructure and cosmetic changes, little has been done to the Forum since its opening.

Research has shown BVU that many different factors affect student recruitment and retention. Ranked high on lists are academic program quality and residence hall spaces. Market research, by a national leader of enrollment consulting, found that a student’s sense of belonging to their institution was directly correlated to the level of satisfaction with the institution’s student center facility and that it was more important in building community than residence halls, recreation centers, or the library; surveys of BVU students and parents support this research. “We often hear BVU students express that they want to socialize in a common space, and parents ask about healthy social opportunities for their students during campus visits,” says Ken Converse, vice president for institutional advancement.

A recently completed space utilization study has also been a valuable tool for the planners as they assess how the space in the Forum can be maximized for student use. Some opportunities might include the movement of executive space to other areas of campus, or the repurposing of existing underutilized spaces. The renovated student space would be more open, inviting, and flexible, with a vibrant motif and movable components, including dining, to ensure that BVU continues to keep on top of the trends important to the student body.

Process and Progress

At their February 2017 meeting, the BVU Board of Trustees approved a campaign to raise philanthropic resources in an effort to renovate the Forum and transform it into a true, modern student center. While the Forum was built with quality structural integrity and sturdy bones to stand the test of time, an update, as vital to any building, is required. The core of the upcoming forum renovation will be to create a space which is student-focused, providing lounges, accessible resources and service, and a stronger sense of BVU spirit. The renovation will be primarily driven by several key themes and student priorities. A more up-to-date dining experience would be introduced, providing spaces for students to eat and study simultaneously for longer periods of time. Contemporary and modular seating will be introduced to the new dining area along with a wider variety of table groupings. An area solely-dedicated to external group meetings and conferencing space is contemplated, as the current conference center is in the heart of the the Forum but rarely used by students; current plans depict a space that is more student-focused rather than combined with conferencing.

By opening up the entrance to Harold Walter Siebens School of Business, students within will enjoy an enhanced visibility of the rest of the Forum, while also providing a view of the inside for those passing by. Eliminating some walls would allow an even closer association with the Siebens Den (directly across the hall), and a sense of vitality and excitement by those actively learning within. Walkways will don additional seating, a lounge, a large modern fireplace, and meeting and study areas. A renovated retail space for the campus bookstore and coffee shop has also been proposed. Perhaps one of the most practical elements to be included in the renovation will be the addition of an elevator at the east entrance, providing ease of entry for BVU guests, visitors, and commuter students entering the Forum from the east parking lot. Overall, the BVU community and visitors will notice a brighter, fresher, finished appearance with enhanced natural lighting, and views of campus outside of the Forum.

Contractors and architects at Weitz Company (Des Moines, Ia) and BWBR (St. Paul, Minn.) used the following principles, developed through conversations with stakeholders and students, to guide them through the preliminary steps of their work:

Renovation Themes

  • Student ownership of the Forum
  • BVU tradition and spirit
  • “See-and-be-seen” lounges
  • Accessibility and consolidation of spaces
  • Dining, student services, & coffee/spirit store

Student priorities

  • Student services core
  • Student dining renovation
  • Increased space for the Center for Academic Excellence
  • Relocation of the clinic to the Forum
  • Centralization and expansion of lounge spaces
  • Co-location of coffee shop and bookstore
  • Consolidation of conferencing

The planning phase is continuing, as both companies have provided architectural and design concepts for the renovation with a total estimated cost projection of roughly $14 million.

What this means for BVU

The current planning process is the first step to renovating the Forum, which is a major driver in assisting BVU to meet or exceed its short, and longer-term, student enrollment and retention goals. BVU has a long, successful history of building and renovating campus facilities with philanthropic resources, primarily to ensure that the cost for such projects are not passed along to students and their parents. By doing this, we are able to provide new and renovated facilities as a true gift to students.