The New State of SUNY New Paltz

Through a mixture of targeted renovations and new construction, John McEnrue is helping lead a development boom at New Paltz State University of New York not seen since the days of Governor Nelson Rockefeller

The renovation of the Wooster Building puts it on the path to receiving a LEED Gold designation.

Located near the Shawangunk Mountains, roughly 80 miles north of New York City, New Paltz State University of New York is one of the 64 campuses in the SUNY (State University of New York) system. It’s a system for which the late New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller was a strong advocate.

“He consolidated the system and created the framework of the campuses,” explains John McEnrue, SUNY New Paltz’s director of facilities design and construction, who adds that after Rockefeller left office in 1973, many SUNY facilities built in the 1960s and 1970s were left to deteriorate.

That pattern of neglect began to change about 10 years ago, thanks to renewed interest in public universities, which offer a quality education at a lower cost than private schools. The administration of SUNY New Paltz—which has about 6,500 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students—could see that physically improving the campus was essential if the school were to remain competitive.

“Students already understand what a college or university offers academically prior to visiting for admissions tours, but ultimately it’s how the campus looks and is maintained that will attract, and subsequently retain, them,” McEnrue says.

When McEnrue joined New Paltz 11 years ago, there was no grand plan in place for improving the campus, but a landscape master plan and a facilities master plan were developed.

“The landscape plan was to make the campus more pedestrian friendly,” McEnrue says. “We moved parking to the perimeter and added more green space, more walkways, and more lighting. We also carved out space for future projects, which we are currently developing. In terms of the facilities master plan, we realized we were about 400,000 square feet shy of space compared to peer institutions of similar student body size—that took into account classrooms, library space, faculty offices, and residential space. We’re in the process of rectifying that now.”

McEnrue is at the heart of that effort. In his role, he’s responsible for developing long-range strategic facilities initiatives as well as overseeing planning, design, new construction, renovation, replacement, and deferred maintenance for academic, athletic, residential, and administrative facilities. He works closely with John Shupe, assistant vice president of facilities management, who McEnrue says “has provided truly inspirational leadership and a collaborative team approach and environment.”

McEnrue also has a team that includes registered architects, architectural designers, construction managers, and a clerk administrator. Together, the team that McEnrue calls “a very talented, dedicated group of professionals,” has overseen a spate of work not seen since the days when Gov. Rockefeller held office.

Wooster Building Renovation

Duration of project: 3 years

Cost: $36 million

AMONG THE PROJECTS ASSIGNED TO MCENRUE’S TEAM, along with the State University Construction Fund (SUCF), is the renovation of the Wooster Building, which was originally built in the early 1970s in a style that lacked a certain aesthetic.

“The facility had large concrete walls,” McEnrue says. “It was dark and cavernous and not energy-efficient. We stripped it down to its frame, and it has become one of our greatest success stories. It’s become a pedagogically advanced facility. There’s natural light throughout all three floors. We installed a dining center, and the building’s on the path to receiving a LEED Gold designation.”

One of the unique features incorporated by the architectural firm, Croxton Collaborative, is a solar timeline in the main atrium. The staircase rises above the timeline, beneath a skylight. Some of the steps on this staircase are lit by the sun, according to the path it travels along the sky between the summer and winter solstices.

“On June 21st, you can see the sun on the top step, while on December 21st, the sun shines on the bottom step,” McEnrue says.
(Pictured above)

Old Main Education Building Renovation

Duration of project: 3 years

Cost: $33 million

BUILT IN 1907, the Old Main Education Building had, over the years, been stripped of most of its original architectural elements.

“It had carpeting and fluorescent tube lighting,” McEnrue says. “It had morphed into a 1950s and 1960s-inspired facility by the time we started working on it.”

McEnrue and his team, along with SUCF, turned a wing that was once a former gymnasium into three floors of faculty offices and smart classrooms with state-of-the-art technology.

“We also restored the early-20th-century aesthetic appeal—with crown moldings, hardwood floors, schoolhouse pendant lights, and chair railings,” he says. “In fact, we received a local village restoration award for it.”

old main early fall
SUNY New Paltz received a local restoration award for its renovation of the Old Main Education Building.

New Science Building

Duration of project: 2.5 years

Cost: $48 million

Besides renovation work, McEnrue and the SUCF also are overseeing new construction. As of press time, construction on the new science building was scheduled to wrap in December 2016.

“There wasn’t a previously defined border between the surrounding residential neighborhood and the campus, so you never had a sense of arriving at SUNY New Paltz,” McEnrue says. “Our landscape master plan picked this location as a space for academic development and we chose science. We tore down two buildings that housed international studies and geography, and we removed a parking lot to create the space.”

The project’s architectural firm, ZGF, incorporated a unique feature by covering the exterior of the building with slate.

“The architects took their inspiration from the slate on the old stone house roofs in the village of New Paltz,” McEnrue says.

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The New Science Building will also serve as an arriving point for faculty, staff, students, and visitors.

Sojourner Truth Library Renovation

Duration of project: 2 years

Cost: $14 million

A change in behavior precipitated the renovation of SUNY New Platz’s Sojourner Truth Library. “Historically, students studied alone for the most part,” McEnrue says. “But now, the faculty prefers students to work in groups. So, on the main floor, we created group study rooms with smart technology and furniture arrangements that promote interactivity. But there are also places that offer privacy, if students want to study alone.”

The lower levels have more places where students can study quietly, and enjoy a pretty fantastic view.

“The library is bermed into the side of a hill,” McEnrue says. “As part of the renovation, we removed many of the concrete walls on the west side of the building and replaced them with glass so that students may now look out on the Shawangunk Mountains.”

Impressively, the library remained open and in operation during the renovation process.

“We coordinated our work in collaboration with the dean of the library, and pulled off a relatively smooth renovation,” McEnrue says.

20160413-1_Library Exterior_58
Concrete walls were removed from the Sojourner Truth Library and replaced with glass to improve views.

Ridgeview Hall

Duration of project: 1.5 years

Cost: $33 million

Another new construction project underway at SUNY New Paltz is Ridgeview Hall, which, as the name implies, looks out over the Shawangunk Ridge.

“We created student housing with modern amenities, as well as a café where students can eat in or grab and go,” McEnrue says. “The café is very popular.”

At press time, McEnrue told us that Ridgeview Hall is on the path to LEED Gold designation. The residential campus projects at New Paltz State are done in collaboration with the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York.

Thanks to the sustainable features implemented in Ridgeview Hall, the project is on track for LEED Gold status.

A Look Ahead

Even with Several projects underway or already under its belt, SUNY New Paltz still has plans for future work. These plans include a $20 million renovation of an existing residence hall, as well as construction of a 20,000-square-foot engineering facility to accommodate the school’s new mechanical engineering program. Projects on the university’s wish list include another academic facility that has more classrooms and faculty offices, renovating the Smiley Art Building, and renovating the outdated pool.

McEnrue says there are challenges to his job, such as managing expectations and having to prioritize all that needs to be done in terms of deferred maintenance. Nevertheless, he says it’s all rewarding.

“I love coming into the office every day,” he says. “My team is great. They truly want the best services and products for our clients—the faculty and students of SUNY New Paltz.”