The Oregonian: Portland State debuts $64 million business school building in heart of campus
Author: Andrew Theen, The Oregonian/OregonLive
Posted: September 20, 2017

Read the original story in The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Karl Miller Center

For years, Portland State University’s School of Business students had little reason to stick around after class.

There was nowhere to meet and brainstorm or talk shop, and Dean Cliff Allen said the building itself seemed designed specifically to discourage such collaboration.

“They used to literally leave the building after class and sit in their cars,” Allen said. “That’s not conducive to learning.”

Those days are now gone. Starting this month, PSU business students have a shiny new home. Allen took media on a sneak peek tour of the building’s $64 million renovation and expansion now called the Karl Miller Center.

The 143,000-square-foot building nearly triples the business school’s previous footprint and occupies a striking new space at the heart of the urban campus. Some 100,000-square foot of the old building, which the business school shared with the Graduate School of Education, was overhauled to make way for new classrooms and meeting spaces. Another 43,000-square-feet of space was added. All told, the building has 21 classrooms and 10 project or meeting spaces.

“This building is actually a dream in making that goes well beyond the 10 years I’ve been here,” Allen said.

PSU is in the midst of a building boom, and the Miller building is in the first wave. A $70 million renovation to the nearby Neuberger Hall is slated to start this fall, and work on the Viking Pavilion’s $50 million overhaul is expected to finish next spring. The state in 2017 also signed off on $51 million in support for a new building that will be the new home of the Graduate School of Education, OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and Portland Community College programs.

The exterior of the Miller building is half metal-plated and half wood -- Alaskan Yellow Cedar to be precise. Inside, the building is centered around a light-filled atrium that offers a bright and easy connection from PSU’s urban plaza to the South Park Blocks and the rest of campus on the Broadway Side of the building. 

The atrium area, in particular, is designed to be a hangout space. The main staircase bridging the first and second stories will be used for public events and speeches. An upstairs board room is also available for reservation. Several walkways bridge the atrium and connect the fifth-floor new addition to the existing six-story renovated building. Outdoor terraces offer stunning views of downtown and the rest of campus.

The building was designed by SRG Partnership and Behnisch Architekten and built by Skanska USA. Developers hope the building will be LEED-certified Platinum for its sustainability features.

Allen is quick to point out no student tuition or fees were dedicated to the project. Money came from $40 million in state bonds and nearly $24 million in donations, the largest being a $9 million gift from businessman and PSU business school alum Rick Miller. Miller is also chair of PSU’s trustees board. The building is named for his grandfather, a World War II veteran, firefighter, and entrepreneur.

Allen said the building is designed entirely with student needs in mind. Where many schools have migrated to a full-time online MBA program, PSU is focused on lengthier programs of up to 21 months where students are offered a hybrid option: They can study in person or online or combination of the two.

“It gives them that flexibility,” Allen said. “This building is designed to be able to go back and forth.”

Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said PSU is bucking the trend in MBA programs.

Fully online or fully in-person MBAs are everywhere these days, Harnisch said. The hybrid could help PSU “stand out in a crowded field,” he said.

“The structure of the Portland State MBA is a message to both prospective students and employers that they want to build a top-notch program,” he said.

Kyle Huck, an Arizona native who is entering his second year of the full-time MBA program this fall, said Wednesday he’s ready to get started in the new building. “We’re already proud of our program and what we do,” he said, “but this is like coming to a modern workplace. You’re excited about being here every day. It’s energizing.”

On the ground floor, the building will include several retailers, including Vietnamese sandwich chain Best Baguette.