November 11, 2011
ATLANTA – Nearly three decades after it first opened its doors and carved out space in the Urban Life building on the Georgia State University campus, the College of Law is working on designs for a new building.
After a lengthy pre-design process of studying the law school's programmatic and space needs, the project has advanced to the formal design phase, which is expected to continue through summer or fall of 2012. GSU is working to secure state bond support of $65 million and is in the leadership phase of a private fundraising campaign that hopes to secure the remaining $20 million needed to finance the cost of the building. If everything goes to plan, construction crews will break ground in the fall of 2013 and the new College of Law will open in the fall of 2015.
Late last year, the Georgia State University Foundation made a significant investment in the project with the purchase of a parcel of land at the intersection of John Wesley Dobbs Avenue and Park Place, just north of Woodruff Park, for $17 million. The College of Law will share the site with the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, which also plans to build there. Earlier this year, the state authorized a $5 million bond issue to support design costs for the new College of Law building.
This marked a turning point, ending long-standing speculation about where a new law school would be built. Now, with a site selected and the blessing of the Board of Regents to move forward, design work is proceeding in earnest.
During the pre-design phase, the building committee determined what size and type of building would satisfy the law school's current and future programmatic needs–number, size, and configuration of classrooms, size of the library, offices for faculty and staff, etc. –and the preferred physical relationships between those spaces. The committee had to gain an understanding of every aspect of the law school's current program and make projections about its future program, and committee members studied new law school buildings around the country.
Earlier this year, the building committee finalized the design personnel for the new law building. SmithGroup, a national firm known for its work on law schools, will join Atlanta's Stevens & Wilkinson to form the team of architects on the project. Jones Lang LaSalle will serve as program manager and McCarthy will be construction manager; both worked with GSU on the Petit Science Center, which opened in 2010.
Since its founding in 1982, the College of Law has had its home in the Urban Life Building, which also houses Career Services, the Women's Studies Institute and the College of Health and Human Sciences. Sharing this structure means that the law school facilities are fragmented, occupying all or part of five floors of the building. While the law school currently has 110,000 square feet at its disposal, the new building, estimated at 200,000 square feet, would almost double its space.
"Law schools need coherent, integrated facilities that create a sense of community," Dean Steven J.
Kaminshine says. "We've never had that kind of law building, and we've had to create that kind of synergy and programmatic integration within a very challenging physical structure that wasn't built for that purpose.
It was never designed or intended to be a home for a law school. It's taken a lot of ingenuity and creativity to propel the law school as we have for 28 years in space that was really not well-crafted to do it."
Cathy Henson, a 1989 graduate of the law school and a member of the Board of Visitors, echoed those comments.
"I think it's important for the law school to have a sense of place that's comprehensive instead of a classroom on particular floor of a fragmented building, and I don't think we've ever had that sense of community at the law school," she said.
GSU's College of Law has risen steadily in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of the country's best law programs, climbing from No. 97 to No. 61 in the last five years alone, and has been widely recognized as one of the top values in legal education in the country. A new law building would only burnish the school's growing reputation.
Much of the conceptual work that's been underway has entailed looking at the challenges of the current space and what the College of Law wants to achieve by constructing a new home – one that will support the programmatic demands of a 21st-century legal education – from the ground up. Design firm Shepley Bulfinch and local architects Collins Cooper Carusi helped develop these initial recommendations.
There are obvious needs: more space for faculty offices, classrooms, clinics, law journals, collaborative work and event programming, and room to accommodate potential increase in enrollment, to name a few. The flip side of that need is opportunity. With a new building, GSU's College of Law has the chance to better project its identity as an engaged law school that is connected to its urban environment.
"We're trying to engender community," says Doug Yarn, law professor and chair of the building committee since the project's inception. "If you don't have a space that people want to spend a lot of time in, they just come down for classes and they leave. In our view, that limits the opportunity for the educational experience. If you can get people to spend more time there, to collaborate with their peers, to interact more with the faculty, then they're going to learn more."
The new law school building will also serve the school's public mission, acting as a resource for both the legal world and the greater Atlanta community through the law library and a planned conference center. Other primary goals of the project include making the space flexible enough to allow for growth in the student body and developments in legal pedagogy and designing a structure that is architecturally distinctive and environmentally sustainable while honoring the historic context of the buildings around it.
The building committee, comprising faculty, staff, students and alumni, hopes to select from among three design concepts soon. From there, the next steps will be to finalize construction drawings and have contractors bid on the project so they can break ground in 2013.
"The primary benefit of building a new law school is increased visibility to prospective faculty and students, along with a more productive environment for them to co-exist," said Ronald J. Freeman, a 1985 graduate of the law school and a member of the College of Law's Board of Visitors. "The new building will further stabilize the presence of the College of Law in downtown Atlanta and nationwide."
While the law school has made incredible progress during its first 28 years, many feel the new building is a necessary asset at this point to continuing on an upward path.
"I think it reflects a coming of age," Henson said. "When we started, we all came from that hard-scrabble background and took advantage of whatever was available to us, and now we're coming into our own."
Kathleen Poe Ross
Director of Communications