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UNT Dallas’ Founders Hall A Building That Looks To Future

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By Michelle London Bell

The University of North Texas System’s administrators have always planned for the Dallas campus to exemplify a modern, new millennium institution offering cutting-edge degree programs which prepare students for careers in the 21st century.

Beyond academics, UNT Dallas’ blueprint and vision also includes state-of-the-art facilities where students can connect the impact of technology, sustainability and innovation to the impact they’ll make on the community and beyond.

Since its inception in 2005, the University has set out to expand the Southern Dallas campus in order to meet the growing needs and long-term vision for the institution.

UNT Dallas sought a firm to design the campus’ second building (now called Founders Hall) through a competitive, open-bid solicitation process.  Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services for the UNT System Rich Escalante and the UNT Board of Regents selected Overland Partners of San Antonio to provide full architectural, interior design and planning services for the 103,000 square foot facility, named Founder’s Hall.

This multipurpose building contains a library, classrooms, laboratories, administrative offices and common areas.  Overland Partners met with a programming committee comprised of administrators, faculty and staff to gather input in creating the most functional design to suit the University’s needs.

The committee was led by Maxine Rogers, former executive director of finance and administration.  “We held design and sustainability workshops at the onset of the design process to establish project goals,” said project architect Jim Shelton.  “We followed up on this through individual meetings and focus groups as the project progressed, to ensure both function and original design goals were met,” Shelton said.

Beck Senior Project Manager Jeff Helmreich, Overland Partners Architect Jim Shelton and UNT System Project Architect Lilia Gonzales pose with the plaque commemorating the second building at the University of North Texas at Dallas as a Gold LEED Certified building June 27, 2011.

The U.S. Green Building Council certifies that Founders Hall meets the requirements and mandates for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED TM) Gold certification.  Overland was not only recognized by USGBC for the site selection, but also for innovation in design.

The project team considered siting and the building’s orientation to maximize daylight harvesting.  Interior common areas are encased by long panels of glass to bring in as much natural light as possible.

These common areas were designed to form a circular pattern, fostering interaction amongst students, faculty and administration.

“We wanted to give students a place to study, and work and create a learning environment, but also enable students to build relationships amongst faculty and staff.  The design team implemented a similar effect with exterior spaces surrounding the building.  “The relationship between the buildings makes the campus stronger because it provides spaces for people to occupy, interact and build relationships,” says Shelton.

Each of the classrooms feature energy efficient lighting and motion sensors to save on electricity and energy when rooms are not in use.  The roof directly above the classrooms contains hundreds of solar panels that point unused energy back into the grid, creating renewable energy.

To optimize energy performance and efficiency, Overland incorporated modern technology into every facet of the design.  Panalogic cubes in the computer labs replace traditional computer desktop towers to operate through “cloud computing” – where shared resources, software and information are provided via a centralized utility unit.

This saves the University valuable financial resources in the form of lower energy costs since the main unit’s energy is harnessed in one room.  The library is dubbed a “virtual library” with most of the reference materials available in an online format.  Science laboratories contain state-of-the-art equipment, such as vent hoods that emit directly into the atmosphere.

Another major sustainable component integrated into the design includes a water reclamation system to reduce overall water use.  The 3rd floor features a “green roof,” where thousands of gallons of water may be collected, retained and recycled through the cistern.

Low-emitting and rapidly renewable materials were selected for the facility’s interiors.  With Enviroglas flooring (made of 100% reclaimed glass and porcelain), recycled carpeting and wood paneling – the result is both eco-friendly and durable.  In 2011, a recycling program was instituted throughout the building by adding receptacles to collect plastic, aluminum and glass.

There is definitely a sense of both beauty and permanence to the building.  “The whole campus will eventually be designed to have the smallest footprint possible,” says Greg Tomlin, of UNT’s marketing department.

The architects were successful in designing an extremely efficient space that is respectful of the community and positively contributes to Dallas’ urban fabric.

Michelle London-Bell started writing at Dallas South News in 2010 with experience as a freelance writer and also contributes to She has a passion for fashion, the arts, and community and cultural affairs. She also covers music and entertainment. She can be reached at

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