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Green Space

By Amy Cockerham


This spring, Ken Blaha was giving two prospective students a tour of the new Morken Center for Learning and Technology.

Walls in the first-floor computer lab are made of a dry-erase material that is meant to be written on.

Blaha, the chair of the Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, led the students through the sleek new space and showed them some of the building’s whiz-bang features: lab classrooms with individual computers at each desk; wireless Internet access available throughout the building; individual rooms dedicated for seniors working on Capstone projects.

But perhaps the best example of a vision decades in the making – and the strongest selling point to recruits – was how students were actually using the space.

“There are all these small work spaces where students can gather and work on problems right after class if they’re interested, or in the evening,” Blaha said. “When I showed these two students around, that’s what I pointed out.

“It was easy to see. There were all kinds of students buzzing around.”

It’s clear to see how the vision for what is now the Morken Center took hold. In the mid-90s, planners like former provost and current philosophy professor Paul Menzel had the foresight to realize that the future of business, computers and mathematics would become inextricably linked. When the Board of Regents signed off on the 1997 Campus Master Plan, a Center for Learning and Technology was included.

The building became part of PLU’s most successful capital campaign in history. By the end of May 2004, over $128 million had been raised as part of The Campaign for Pacific Lutheran University: The Next Bold Step. Throughout the campaign, donors were energized by the prospect of the new building and the academic environment it would create.

Academic collaboration

Back in his old office, Blaha said he rarely saw students outside his posted office hours. The portable unit didn’t have space for students to gather. There was a “disconnect” between faculty and students, he said.

“Now, when I’m here in the office, if I walk down to visit somebody on another floor, I run into three or four students and we chat about whatever it is they’re interested in,” he said.

Across the disciplines – and regardless of the prior location of their offices – Blaha’s colleagues agree.

“I’ve personally had way more interaction with students, just saying hi and asking how they’re doing,” said Diane MacDonald, who is associate professor and associate dean of the School of Business.

“The most important aspect is that the space is student-friendly,” echoed Jeffrey Stuart, associate professor of mathematics. “It’s much more likely that I will see students outside my normal office hours.”

Stuart is also taking advantage of the proximity to fellow faculty members. In April, Stuart and Bruce Finnie, associate professor of finance in the School of Business, met in Finnie’s third-floor office to apply their combined expertise to a complex problem.

The two are working on a research project aimed at closing a loophole that allows

industrial hard-rock mining companies to skirt responsibility for environmental remediation by declaring bankruptcy. The research was borne of a common interest in risk assessment, according to Finnie, and their collaboration began over a year ago, before the two shared common quarters. But being together in the same building has made the work that much easier.

Architect: Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership of Portland, Ore. Contractor: Sellen Construction of Seattle. Project Manager: Lorig Associates of Seattle. Size: 53,137 square feet, two wings, with three stories on the south wing and two on the north wing. Construction Timeline: 13 months. Programs: School of Business, departments of Mathematics, and Computer Science and Computer Engineering, as well as Math, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA). Building Features: Computer-equipped classrooms/laboratories, open lab, multimedia lab, electronics lab, research labs, student and faculty project workrooms, seminar and conference rooms, atrium and cafe, public events room.

Collaboration by design

The building, at just over 53,000 square feet, has united the three academic areas for the first time in a technology-forward learning environment.

The building is heated and cooled by a geothermal heat pump system that does not require fossil fuels or ozone-depleting chemicals.

The office of Tacoma/South Puget Sound MESA, or Math, Engineering, ScienceAchievement, a state K-12 program, is also in the new Morken Center.

The combination of these academic areas was no accident.

“What we heard when we talked to alums at Microsoft – computer scientists – was, ‘We wish we had more business experience,’ ” said Sheri Tonn, PLU’s vice president of finance and operations. “The business majors said ‘We wish we had more computer science.’

We hope this will help bring them together.”

Computer science and computer engineering, and mathematics were accustomed to sharing close quarters in their old building near the tennis courts on the extreme south end of campus. But the inclusion of the School of Business has changed things substantially.

“With business it’s very nice because we teach a support course for business,” said Blaha, the computer science and computer engineering professor. “We now run into business faculty on a daily basis and can talk about what their needs are for the support course.”

Kyle Ciolli, a sophomore in Finnie’s Business 335 – Investments course, appreciates the improved access to his professors.

“It’s nice having all the professors centrally located in one building,” Ciolli said. “It’s easy to be in contact and talk to them if you need to.”

Perhaps one of the most compelling opinions on the combination of academic areas comes from a man whose private-industry success allowed him to make the naming contribution to the building. Don Morken ’60 founded an investment firm in Bellevue, called Genesee Investments. (See page 18.)

“I can tell you that from a conceptual point of view, putting those three departments together makes all the sense in the world,” Morken said. “I know from my own actual business experience that those are the disciplines that are needed today in the business world … Part of the academic restructuring is to create programs that can wind up improving each of the disciplines.”

Designed to sustain

Morken also believes strongly in the university’s role as a leader in green building practices, and hopes the high standards achieved in his namesake building help propagate green building throughout the region.

Plants indigenous to the Northwest were used in the landscaping so they could thrive without excessive watering or need for fertilizers.

The Morken Center is being evaluated by the U.S. Green Building Council as part of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The university kept LEED standards in mind throughout the building process, and several influential voices on campus, starting with President Loren Anderson, Tonn and Director of Facilities Management Dave Kohler, ensured that the building was in keeping with PLU’s commitment to care for the earth.

“Quite frankly, we would have a hard time reconciling any other way of building with our principles,” Anderson said. “When it can be done – and I’m here to say it can be done efficiently and cost-effectively – it should be done.”

The LEED program features five levels of certification: certified, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The certification system is based on points available in six evaluation areas: sustainable sites; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; indoor environmental quality; and innovation and design process.

The building is expected to attain a gold-level LEED certification, making it by far the most earth-friendly building on campus. It has set a new standard for environmental awareness in design and construction at PLU; the Eastvold Hall expansion project and the new KPLU building are both being designed to meet the requirements for similar certification.

The exceptional nature of the building is obvious the minute you walk in the door.

Natural light floods airy, open spaces. Clean, minimalist lines simultaneously suggest a modern space dedicated to technology and innovation while referencing PLU’s Scandinavian heritage. Native species in the landscaping underscore a sense of place specific to the Pacific Northwest.

To Yancy Wright, project engineer at Sellen Construction, one noticeable feature of the building is the smell: It doesn’t have one.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but (the Morken Center) doesn’t feel or smell like a new building,” Wright told a tour group gathered in the atrium shortly after the building opened.

“We took a lot of time and effort throughout the construction process to ensure that. And then to prove it, we brought somebody in and they tested for formaldehyde, they tested for volatile organic compounds, they tested for particulates in the air, they tested for all these things to prove it was indeed a clean and healthy indoor air quality.”

Wright spent months at PLU during the construction of the Morken Center, overseeing the building process to ensure that the high environmental standards established on paper were carried out on the ground. He is perhaps one of the most enthusiastic boosters of the building, and a staunch advocate of PLU.

He described PLU’s work on the Morken Center as a “unique case” of committed individuals working together to realize an ambitious goal.

“Starting at the top with Sheri Tonn all the way through with Dave Kohler and (Grounds Maintenance Specialist) Ken Cote … if it weren’t for these people, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Wright said the most significant environmental achievement in the Morken Center is the use of a heat pump that is 100 percent free of hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs. HCFCs are a key ingredient in Freon, once regarded as the gold standard in cooling systems and refrigerators, which has since been proven to deplete the earth’s ozone. When construction began, PLU’s vendor hadn’t yet engineered its first 100-percent HCFC-free heat pump.

Tonn made the call to wait for the new technology rather than install a heat pump that required Freon.

“Dave Kohler and I said ‘How can we do this and live with ourselves?’ ” Tonn recalled of the decision to wait out the engineering of the new technology.

Tonn is quick to point out, though, that building green doesn’t just feel good. It also saves money.

“During the whole process of this building I was acutely aware of the cost of operating the building,” she said. “I wanted to minimize the long-term costs. If that meant spending more up front, okay. It’s important to look at first-cost versus operating cost.”

Tonn estimates the building’s geothermal heat pump system will pay for itself within three to seven years. “Knowing what we know about energy costs coming up, it’s more likely to be around three years,” she said.

The building is heated and cooled through a system of 83 geothermal pumps, located 300 feet underground. It is a closed loop that uses water from underground wells to alter the temperature within the building depending on the season. The temperature of groundwater remains a constant 52 to 54 degrees Fahrenheit, so concentrated heat energy from the water can be used to warm the building in the winter. In the summer, when air temperature is much warmer than the underground temperature, the water cools the building.

The system uses less energy than traditional heating and cooling systems and is lower maintenance.

That pleases Kohler for both personal and professional reasons. Growing up in a large family in the heart of Pennsylvania steel country, Kohler said his environmental ethos is old-school. “I was raised with the notion that it’s best to make things last,” he said.

But he also appreciates the fact that unlike several of the other large buildings on campus, he won’t have to spend thousands of dollars and lots of time preparing a chiller unit for cooling in the summer and decommissioning it in the winter.

“College campuses and government buildings are where it makes the most sense to build to LEED standards,” Tonn said. “You’re looking at buildings with a 100-year lifespan. I view (the cost of LEED standards) as really amortizing over the 100-year lifespan.”

A prime example is the building’s stainless steel roof tiles. Unlike high-maintenance blacktop roofs that create “heat islands” over the building due to absorption of heat energy, the stainless steel tiles are “heat neutral” – and virtually indestructible.

The roofing is just one of many ways in which the building has exceeded the dreams of planners, donors, faculty and staff, and of course, students.

“One student gave me a great quote,” Blaha recalled. “It was something like ‘I always felt like I was receiving a 100-thousand-dollar education, but now I feel like I’m in a facility that matches that.’ ”

Project Cost: $21 million, including furnishings, equipment, landscaping and parking enhancements. Technology: There are over seven miles of conduit running through the concrete floors to power advanced technology in the building. All common areas have wireless Internet access. Some computer science and computer engineering classrooms have computers at each desk. There are dedicated study areas for seniors completing semester-long Capstone coursework. Sustainability Features: Built based on the U.S. Green Building Councilís guidelines for certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

It’s a family affair

”The financial part just happens when you really believe in something.” —Don Morken

Don Morken '60

From the outset, Don and Wanda Morken have insisted that it’s the entire Morken family for which the new Morken Center for Learning and Technology is named.

The Morkens stepped forward with an $8 million contribution to The Campaign for Pacific Lutheran University: The Next Bold Step back in 2000, making them the first to stand behind the planned Center for Learning and Technology.

As a member of the Board of Regents, Don Morken ’60 felt their commitment was important symbolically.

“The stock market had been down and people weren’t feeling as wealthy as they had been,” Morken said. “We weren’t going to start the building unless we had the money.”

Morken said the circumstances provided a good opportunity to demonstrate his dedication to the university.

“There’s nothing exotic about it,” Morken said of his support for the project. “The financial part just happens when you really believe in something.”

Morken’s low-key perspective on his role in the realization of the building is customary. He is known for being modest, and credits his upbringing in tiny Genesee, Idaho, for keeping him grounded.

“My parents were very unassuming people,” Morken said. “In terms of Genesee society they were probably at the very tip top, but they were very humble themselves – just good people.”

Morken’s father, Ed Morken, was on the Genesee school board for 23 years. He went on to serve as a PLU regent for 16 years. But that’s just the beginning of the Morken family connection to PLU.

Morken’s aunt, R. Eline Kraabel Morken, was director of the Department of Nursing (later to become the School of Nursing) from 1953 to 1966. His older brother, Ed Morken ’53, received a business degree at PLU and went on to run the family farm back in Genesee. His younger sister, Betty Sue (Morken ’69) Ritchie, received a bachelor’s in nursing here. Morken’s daughter, Sonya (Morken ’01) Prata received her MBA at PLU and her husband, Anthony Prata ’06, just completed his bachelor’s degree in business this spring.

Beyond that, there are “a whole bunch of relatives” – cousins, nieces and nephews – according to Morken, who have attended PLU.

Two nephews, Don Stout ’94 and Darren Ritchie, ’04, as well as his daughter, Sonya, now work for Morken at his firm, Genesee Investments.

Morken said he learned skills at PLU that served him well in the business world. In particular, he credits former business-school dean Dwight Zulauf and the work the two did together on present-value concepts as the foundation of his career. After receiving his MBA from Columbia University, Morken returned to Seattle to work in the municipal bond business and used the little-known concepts to launch his first company.

Having the building named after himself was never a priority, Morken said. In fact, he told President Loren Anderson that he didn’t want his name on the building, but Anderson insisted.

“I said, ‘If you want to put the Morken name on it, it’s not just me, it’s the Morken family,’ ” Morken said.

“I think the word ‘humbling’ is appropriate” to describe how it feels to have the building bear the family name, Morken said. “I’m honored that the university wanted to have our name attached.

“I didn’t give the money or do the work because I wanted my name permanently attached to something.”

The Morkens’ self-effacing modesty does not stretch far enough to conceal the great admiration for them felt throughout the

PLU community and the high esteem in which they are held, in particular by Anderson.

“Don and Wanda Morken are great friends of the university and they are great visionaries,” Anderson said. “They will never say so themselves, but I know, and I’m sure they know full-well, that their generosity has transformed PLU.

“And we all know that the Morken Center will result in a transformation in the lives of thousands of students in the decades to come.”

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© Scene 2006  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Summer 2006

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