The Sustainable Approach to the Renovation and Expansion of Georgia Tech’s Campus Center

Jeremiah Phillips, PE

A Student Center building is arguably the one place on any college campus that students, faculty, staff, and guests gravitate toward. They house a variety of functions that serve the entire campus community. Georgia Tech’s Campus Center is no different; however, the original 45-year-old structure, and its subsequent additions, no longer fit the needs of the current campus population. Additionally, Georgia Tech is at the forefront of sustainability and sustainable design, and the facility did not meet the institution’s stringent criteria.


In 2017, Georgia Tech embarked on the design of a new Campus Center. The existing Student Center complex comprised the Fred B. Wenn Student Center, a Post Office, the Stamps Student Center Commons, and the Stamps Addition. The original Student Center opened in 1970 and served the 7,000-student population and 2,000 faculty and staff. Subsequent additions completed in 1987 and 1989, and the incorporation of the Houston Bookstore in 2003, brought the Student Center complex to approximately 167,000 square feet.

The decades have seen the Georgia Tech campus population grow to 25,000 students and 8,000 faculty and staff. As a result, the facility could no longer serve this larger, more diverse population, and students no longer felt connected with the building as their needed social hub or as a home for student organizations.

Additionally, a 2011 assessment of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems – which were original to the building – found that the infrastructure was outdated and at risk for failure. These systems were identified for complete replacement and upgrades as part of the new Campus Center project. There were also deficiencies identified in a recently completed Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan, which were also addressed in the new facility to achieve universal accessibility.


The vision of the Georgia Tech Student Center is “to be the national leader in producing life-shaping campus experiences for students while providing an irresistible environment for the Georgia Tech community to gather, while also enhancing the values of learning, integrity, inclusiveness, innovation, fiscal responsibility, and exceptional service.” To support this vision, the expanded and refreshed 300,000 square foot, $90.5 million Campus Center includes: (1)

  • Enhanced large event spaces
  • Expanded group meeting spaces
  • Updated and expanded dining and retail options
  • Additional lounge and study areas
  • Collaborative co-working space for student organizations
  • A multi-cultural space
  • Office suites for groups directly tied to Campus Center operations and student services

All these components comprise the renovation of the original building and a three-story addition to that building, and three new buildings that provide a new stand-alone café, a wellness-themed pavilion, an exhibition hall, and an event facility with several meeting rooms and a ballroom, lounges, a gaming area, and other food and retail offerings. These multiple buildings run along an approximately 12-acre site adjacent to the Tech Green lawn.


Georgia Tech held an Ideas Competition for the shortlisted teams to aid in their identification and selection of a design/build team to design and construct their new Campus Center. The Ideas Competition concept is not unique to Georgia Tech as the institution used the same approach to select the team for their net-positive Kendeda Building that was completed in 2019. Not only is the size of the renovated and expanded Campus Center significant at 300,000 square feet, but the institution also has ambitious sustainability initiatives and re-vamped student programs that need to be incorporated into the design. This approach also allowed the owner to select the team they felt was most capable of providing “innovative solutions for project staging, temporary facilities, and schedule compression.” (1)


For over three decades, Georgia Tech has taught sustainability practices in the classroom and built facilities that embrace environmental challenges and sustainability standards. In October 2022, Georgia Tech announced its Sustainability Next Plan, which proposes a roadmap for campus sustainability for the next decade. The plan reaches all institution parameters, including research, education, operations, and economic development. (2)

While Georgia Tech did not pursue LEED Certification for the Campus Center, this project did incorporate other sustainable design codes and initiatives. Specifically, the project included the requirements of the Georgia Energy Efficiency & Sustainable Construction Act of 2008 and fulfilled the requirements for Georgia Peach Green Building Certification. “Other sustainable concepts were included, specifically adherence to ASHRAE 189.1; pursuit of WELL Building Certification; design of energy efficient systems through energy modeling and incorporating renewable energy where feasible; and site stormwater management.” (1)

The Campus Cisterns

The Campus Center project was constructed in two phases. Each phase includes an above-ground cistern holding a combined 167,000 gallons of stormwater collected from the building rooftops to be utilized for irrigation and water re-use. The cistern designs required significant coordination with the architect, plumbing engineer, landscape designers, and construction team to determine the location for and sizes of the cisterns based on how much water would be collected, and how to use that storage volume to offset stormwater requirements.

Landscape and Stormwater Runoff

We worked closely with the landscape architect to identify the best way to provide water treatment and water control in areas near the newer, smaller buildings in the project to manage the water upstream before it made it downstream. One way this was accomplished was to create localized bioretention and bioswales in some areas along the experiential path near the buildings that housed the café and pavilion. The resulting design sent overflow to a deflector pipe and eventually into an underground retention system. This solution allowed the project to meet the City of Atlanta’s requirements for stormwater runoff.

Permeable pavers are placed in several locations to create a treatment train approach to treat stormwater before it enters the system. Any treatment we can use upstream reduces the storage volume we need to provide downstream.

Additionally, the project feeds into a 1.4 million gallon cistern – one of the largest in the United States – located under Tech Green (completed in 2011). This cistern also has retention capabilities and a chamber system with an open bottom, so this offered some residual infiltration. The institution utilizes the collected water for toilet flushing and landscape irrigation.


(1) Georgia Institute of Technology Request for Qualifications for Design Build Services, Campus Center, Atlanta, Georgia; April 2017.
(2) Georgia Institute of Technology website.