New Law Commons Opens

The James E. Rogers College of Law's renovation project was completed on time and within its budget.
Aug. 22, 2008
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About the Project:

Project size: 117,000 square feet of renovation

Construction began: May 2007

Construction ended: August 2008

Architect: Gould Evans

Construction Manager: Hensel Phelps

Mechanical, Plumbing and Electrical:

Structural: Paragon Structural Design

Landscape Architecture: Wheat Scharf Associates

Civil Engineering: GLHN

Technology Consulting: The Sextant Group

The $21 million Law Commons renovation project began in May 2007. Students, faculty and staff began moving into the site Aug. 5. (Photo courtesy of the James E. Rogers College of Law)
The $21 million Law Commons renovation project began in May 2007. Students, faculty and staff began moving into the site Aug. 5. (Photo courtesy of the James E. Rogers College of Law)
Student study rooms in the lower level of the Law Commons are splashed with fresh and vibrant colors.
Student study rooms in the lower level of the Law Commons are splashed with fresh and vibrant colors.
The stairwell is a strong feature in the new Law Commons and sits just below a well that delivers natural light to the building.
The stairwell is a strong feature in the new Law Commons and sits just below a well that delivers natural light to the building.
The Law Commons project involved renovating 117,000 square feet to create a much more modern look and open feel throughout the building.
The Law Commons project involved renovating 117,000 square feet to create a much more modern look and open feel throughout the building.

The James E. Rogers College of Law has been scattered across multiple areas on and around campus since May of 2007.

But today, gutted and reborn, the new University of Arizona building is open to its students, faculty and staff. At the start of the new academic year, it's perfect timing. The building is fully complete and was constructed within its budget.

“That’s incredible given the time and the moving parts,” said Toni Massaro, dean of the college.

Also amazing is the look and feel of the Rogers College of Law building, which is a striking contrast to its former self.

As students return to class, the impression among many at the college is that the fresh space is a fusion of history, heritage and modern conveniences and will provide a greater sense of professionalism, interaction and community engagement.

Rigel Massaro, a UA law student in the third year of her juris doctorate program, was among those to take more than 150 new students on a tour around the new building.

“Everyone is really excited,” said Massaro, who is also president of the Student Bar Association and is not related to the dean. “It’s very clear that the dean and the associate deans have spent a long time planning this and listening to what the students needed.”

The building is a union of tradition and modernity, of space and accessibility. Nearly 100-year-old chairs and benches that have been mainstay features decade after decade remain in the new building, which has larger and more versatile classroom and meeting spaces, among other additions.

“Students today, in terms of what we’re seeing in trends in education, want to be in open areas, they want more interaction and they want access to natural light,” said Tamara Shroll, vice president for Gould Evans, the project's architect.

“In the past, some of the most vibrant programs were in some of the most desolate areas in the building,” said Shroll, who is also a project manager. “One project goal was to get those spaces out and visible where the students could interact with each other and to also have the teaching spaces in open areas.”

A major feature in the building, a concrete stairwell dips into the ground just below walls covered by an engineered walnut wood plank flooring system. Below ground, accents of bright green mingle with UA red with an acoustical wood ceiling and a compact shelving system is not only high-tech, but also frees up even more space in the building.

“Our architecture team at Gould Evans helped us overcome some of our more traditional ideas about what a law library looked like,” said Michael Chiorazzi, the college’s associate dean for information services. “That's important because libraries are used differently these days, and that should be reflected aesthetically.”

Natural light filters though environmentally conscious windows and ceiling, transforming what was once a closed and often dark building.

“There's a growing body of thought and research on what we intuitively know – that good lighting has a real impact on learning. So I think the biggest change is making natural light a prominent feature of the Law Commons on all three floors,” Chiorazzi said.

He also added that having appropriately sized classrooms with built-in technology is not only critical, “but it also builds a sense of community and enhances interaction in ways that a small class – lost in a large lecture hall – cannot.”

The $21 million project renovated nearly 117,000 square feet of space, resulting in more space for common areas, the library, lounge areas, classroom space, faculty offices and new space for student organizations, the Arizona Law Review and the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law.

Shroll said completing the building has been “one of the best experience we’ve ever had in that the University has continued to challenge us to create something incredible and unique.”

The “heartbeat” of the renovation project is the library, which is located downstairs, said Massaro, the college dean.

Also downstairs are study rooms and niche spaces for students to work in smaller groups or alone.

Rigel Massaro said the highlights of the new building include the amount of space available – including a conference room exclusively for student use.

“There is a variety of space to be social, to study, for classes. And we’ve transformed the basement into a beautifully, naturally lit floor that can’t really be called a basement anymore,” the law student said.

Chiorazzi, who is also the editor of the college’s Legal Reference Services Quarterly journal and who teaches information resources and library science for the college, said the space will benefit “a very active College of Law community” whether they are UA students, faculty and staff or community members.

Such changes and additions will allow the college to “facilitate learning in new ways," Toni Massaro said.

“A lot has changed in 30 years. Now, learning is about collaboration and interactivity. It’s crucial,” she said. “We now have lots of open space for the hundreds of events we have every year.”