Salisbury University Officially Opens Patricia R. Guerrieri Academic Commons

For years Salisbury University students have studied in what was considered by some as one of the worst campus libraries in the country.  According to the American Library Association, the SU facility provided less than one-third of the minimum recommended seating for a student body of SU’s size and less than half the necessary space for library materials.  Its collections were last among its performance peers, but library staff couldn’t add to them because there was no room.

Today, that changed.  Before a jubilant audience of students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach, with donors and other supporters, cut the ribbon on the new $117 million Patricia R. Guerrieri Academic Commons (GAC):  At 221,000-square-feet, the largest academic construction project since the founding of the campus in 1925.

“Words cannot begin to describe what I’m feeling today,” said Dudley-Eshbach.  “This is the most important building project during my 17-year career at Salisbury University.  As we planned the structure, our thinking was not simply to erect a bigger and better library, but to transform the learning experience for students and for the University at a critical time in its evolution.  The library was intentionally placed in the heart of main campus because we see it becoming the epicenter of learning in what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the ‘academic village.’ That is one reason why we are calling this an ‘academic commons.’ It is a wonderful library—and far more.”

According to Bryan Irwin of Sasaki Associates, principal architect of the GAC, campus libraries, after years of existential crises (“Will the library be relevant in the age of the Internet?”), are in resurgence, reasserting themselves as vital to the academic experience.  “The Guerrieri Academic Commons is at the leading edge of this moment,” he said.

The building was named in memory of SU alumna Patricia R. Guerrieri, whose portrait by artist Laura Era of Troika Gallery in Easton, MD, hangs in the lobby. An omnivorous reader, Guerrieri instilled a love of learning in her children.  Three of them attended the campus elementary school, whose former site became the location of the GAC.   The Guerrieri Family Foundation donated $8 million toward the library and its collections.

“Our mom was always doing special things for others,” said Michael Guerrieri.  “She loved learning about nature and history.  Her boundless curiosity made her a natural researcher.  We are proud to honor her in a way that will help so many people.”

“We would not be standing before such a magnificent structure today without the generosity and support of the Guerrieri family,” added Dudley-Eshbach. “Throughout the decades, they have given so much to this campus and to the Eastern Shore.  Their name is not new to us: The Guerrieri University Center, the Guerrieri Laboratory Wing, Guerrieri scholarships—at pivotal moments, this family has been here for our students, for those who teach them, and for residents of our region. Our new center of campus and community learning will memorialize a great woman and her caring, civic-minded family.”

Nearly four times larger than the former library, the GAC is also twice as tall (four stories as opposed to two). It unites a community of student academic services and programs formerly scattered across campus. (They include the Writing Center, Center for Student Achievement, TRiO, Math Emporium and a new maker lab with 3D printing.) In close proximity are a new Faculty Center, with meeting rooms for those engaged in cross-disciplinary study and also comfortable seating for different schools and departments to socialize; a new Graduate Commons for SU’s growing population of masters, doctoral and certificate students; and the Office of Instructional Design and Delivery, whose services include audio and recording studios for online and distance learning.

If the second floor is devoted to collaborative learning, Dr. Beatriz Hardy, dean of libraries and instructional resources, thinks of the first as “Research Central,” housing Information Technology’s Help Desk and librarian offices for easy access by students and other visitors.

Nearby, a two-story café has colorful counter facades and surfaces crafted from recycled documents. Its Hungry Minds Express and Rise Up Coffee Roasters adjoin a 24-hour study space. Food is made to order and includes such specialties as Dr. Janet’s South of the Border Burger, featuring Tex-Mex toppings (named after SU’s President, who is a Latin American scholar), as well as snacks and convenience goods.  Rise Up, a local chain founded in 2005 by SU alumni Timothy Cureton and Noah Kegley, serves signature items including fair trade and organic coffees.

The third floor provides traditional library spaces with book stacks and reading nooks for quiet, individual reflective study.  And there will be room to grow collections.academic-commons-1

On the fourth floor is the library’s popular Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture.  Nearly tripling in size, it also is growing with the integration of the University Archives and Special Collections.  Climate-controlled archival and artifacts storage facilities, with museum-quality painting and textile racks and shelving, will be on par with those at national research universities and state-level archives, said Dr. Creston Long, center director.  Part of the complex is an archaeology lab. A permanent exhibit will focus on Delmarva life, and rotating exhibit space offers a teaching lab for students. A fully equipped classroom will become a laboratory for the humanities.  Barbara Charles, a consultant who has worked with the Smithsonian Institution, assisted in planning.

On the other side of the fourth floor is an Assembly Hall and patio with spectacular views of campus and of Salisbury. Accommodating up to 400, its sophisticated light and sound systems include digital audio networking, “robe-Mini-me” intelligent lighting, and banks of theatrical lights traditionally used on Broadway with a potential 50,000 wattage.  The space, which will accommodate everything from recitals and lectures to dinners and receptions, provides an excellent opportunity for students to learn live event production, said Matt Hill, event technical services coordinator.

Technologically, some 600 computers and 85 large flat panel monitors are spread throughout. This is more than three times the number of public computers as in the old library. Thoughtfully arranged individual and group study spaces, multimedia labs, smart classrooms and other convenient and flexible arrangements are designed to support student learning, research and creativity. The most connected building on campus, wireless coverage in the GAC is the equivalent of some 3 ½ football fields, said Duke Darrigio II, director of information technology operations.

One of the most striking features of the building people will rarely see: a 20,000 square foot “lawn” on the roof comprised of sedum and other regional low-growing plants. They will act as a collection and filtration system, absorbing and cleaning rainwater before a system of stone and concrete collectors distributes it back into the ground, significantly reducing runoff.  It also will serve as a natural buffer between the roof and sun, providing an interior cooling effect. This is just one of the GAC’s sustainable features.

Uniting the building’s multiple services and offices is a soaring 62-foot-tall atrium lit, in part, by skylights and marked by a dramatic staircase. The staircase design, architects say, was inspired by the silhouette of the crab.  Colors of ocean, beach and bay are found throughout, another Eastern Shore reflection.

Sunlight pours through large windows and upper floors enjoy sweeping vistas.  “People spend long hours in a library, and that time is spent much more humanely if one senses a connection with the natural world,” said Irwin. “One of the wonderful things about libraries, particularly academic libraries, is the way they come alive at night.  We were very mindful of creating a dramatic and inspiring beacon.”

Efforts were made to design a building that was contextual with the rest of campus, from choice of brick and detailing, to an honorific entrance along Route 13 expressed in white with rounded columns, echoing the front of Holloway Hall, the University’s first building and a historical landmark. This civic east façade for the community is balanced by an interior, more informal and varied campus entrance off Red Square, a popular outdoor student area.  Architects said they enjoyed working with students who were part of the design process.

One of the GAC’s most distinctive features is a 147-foot-high carillon tower, the tallest point on campus.  Donated by Bill Church of Greenville, DE, in memory of his longtime partner, Samuel R. Brown, the 48-bell instrument will be installed later this year.

“Another individual who made this wonderful resource for the Eastern Shore possible is retired Delegate Norman H. Conway, past chair of the Maryland House Appropriations Committee,” said Dudley-Eshbach.  “Our library serves not only University students and faculty, but the population of 210,000 in the four counties of Maryland’s Lower Shore.  Thanks to Delegate Conway, this building has the potential of inspiring young minds and all throughout our region who believe in the benefits of learning.”

In addition to Sasaki Associates, whose honors include award-winning work at libraries across the country, their Maryland partner and architect-of-record is the nationally recognized higher education architecture and planning firm Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore.  The contractor, Gilbane Construction, has also been recognized by Fortune magazine and honored for its work at Maryland campuses.

For more information, visit the SU website at or call 410-543-6030.

Comments are closed.