CSU System to break ground
on urban campus in 2020

story by Tiana Nelson
published July 16, 2019

A project five years in the making will soon be the Colorado State University System’s newest location in the state.

As part of the National Western Center – a redevelopment project in north Denver on the grounds of the historic National Western Stock Show – the CSU System will construct three buildings at a main crossroads in Denver.

“The CSU Campus at the National Western Center will provide an unprecedented platform for researchers and stakeholders from various backgrounds and from around the world to collaborate on issues at the intersection of food, water, and health,” said Dr. Tony Frank, chancellor of the CSU System.

Flipping the university model on its head – CSU will place emphasis on experiential education on the main floors and research upstairs.

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“The space will convene research experts from around the world related to water, food, sustainability, and human and animal health,” said Jocelyn Hittle, director of Denver programming for the CSU System. “It will not only be a place, but also a network – a launching point for collaboration across disciplines and sectors – aimed at addressing global challenges.”

CSU colleges make plans

Speaking with Mike Bartolo, director of the Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford. The CSU System has been engaged in listening tours around the state to gather ideas that will help inform the future educational programming at the National Western Center site.

Speaking with Mike Bartolo, director of the Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford. The CSU System has been engaged in listening tours around the state to gather ideas that will help inform the future educational programming at the National Western Center site.

As the CSU System nears groundbreaking on the buildings in early 2020, the plans for what will happen inside are coming into focus.

The spaces will come alive year-round with art, experiments, programs, and hands-on learning from partner organizations and CSU System campuses: the main campus in Fort Collins as well as CSU Global and CSU-Pueblo.

More than 100 people from all eight colleges at the Fort Collins campus have been involved in planning the future spaces, while CSU-Pueblo and CSU Global are developing plans for engagement at the site.

“The global education leadership goal of the National Western Center is a powerful one, particularly given the center’s focus on food, water, and health,” said Becky Takeda-Tinker, president of CSU Global. “CSU Global looks forward to contributing its expertise in asynchronous online education delivery, allowing the impact of the center to have a continual and expanded reach with stakeholders around the world.”

Tim Mottet, president of CSU-Pueblo, agreed.

“As we work to become the people’s university for the state of Colorado and the southwest United States, CSU-Pueblo looks forward to representing the food, water, and health needs of the Pueblo community and southern Colorado. We are very excited about the opportunity to showcase our university and region at the National Western Center,” said Mottet.

Bringing university research and work to life for the community is a core tenet of the new Denver presence.

“The CSU Campus at the National Western Center will provide an unprecedented platform for researchers and stakeholders from various backgrounds and from around the world to collaborate on issues at the intersection of food, water, and health.”

— Dr. Tony Frank, chancellor of the CSU System

“The real magic of our college’s presence at the National Western Center is the opportunity to engage and inspire the public,” said Mark Stetter, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “We’ll not only be able to offer the highest level of animal care to companion animals and equine athletes in the space, but the public will be able to view surgeries and rehabilitation that usually take place behind closed doors. It’s an incredible model that showcases science and health, and – we hope – inspires students to think about new career paths.”

In addition to holding an open door to the public, the programs are being designed to give CSU students new experiences through working with partner organizations and engaging in an urban environment.

At the building focused on animal health, Denver’s Dumb Friends League will open a community clinic, providing donor-subsidized veterinary care for companion animals of low-income families.

A CSU veterinarian gives a check-up to a puppy during the annual Focus on Health Community Clinic, hosted at Focus Points Family Resource Center.

A CSU veterinarian gives a check-up to a puppy during the annual Focus on Health Community Clinic, hosted at Focus Points Family Resource Center.

The College of Liberal Arts’ Undergraduate Research Academy, “Studying Urban and Rural Life,” will open a hub at the National Western Center. Greg Dickinson, professor and chair of the Department of Communications Studies, said it is a perfect location to explore the challenges faced by urban and rural communities alike.

“Bringing to bear approaches from across the arts, humanities, and social sciences, the academy will provide opportunities for students to study diversity, power, and community across many of the spaces characteristic of Colorado,” Dickinson said. “Our undergraduates will gain a deeper understanding of the state and of the power of liberal arts approaches to answer pressing research questions.”

“We have great opportunities to plant the seeds for future growth and success, linking the National Western Center to the various communities in Denver and across the state through engaged scholarship,” said Benjamin Withers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

With more than 700,000 visitors during the 16-day National Western Stock Show in January alone, it’s also a platform to boost research, showcase existing work to the public, and help people understand – and care about – complex global issues.

“We see the water building as a bridge where science, management, and policy interests can come together to catalyze the innovation needed for a more sustainable water future,” said Reagan Waskom, director of CSU’s Colorado Water Center. In a rare university-utility partnership, Denver Water will build a water quality lab on the site and be a major CSU partner related to research and public outreach.

The 2018 CSU Water Sustainability Fellows — a program which gives students of color an opportunity to engage in water issues.

The 2018 CSU Water Sustainability Fellows — a program that gives students of color an opportunity to engage in water issues.

Connections to the project span all colleges, including what some see as an obvious connection with the historic site of the National Western Stock Show. Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences Ajay Menon, however, says to expect the unexpected.

The college is actively developing a proposed suite of programs, including a research and demonstration facility showcasing the latest advancements in green-roof technology and controlled-environment agriculture; training and support services for the food and agriculture community in food safety, entrepreneurship, business development, and succession planning; and immersive high-tech educational experiences for K-12 students and families.

“Our college is motivated by the vast potential of this campus as an additional platform for the University to demonstrate its leadership in engaged research and lifelong learning, in service of our land-grant mission,” Menon said.

David McLean, dean of the Walter Scott Jr. College of Engineering, agreed that the project is a natural extension of CSU’s land-grant mission.

“We are very excited for the opportunity to have a greater presence in the Denver metropolitan area, allowing us to engage companies and government agencies on important issues impacting all of Colorado,” he said. “We look forward to working with the community on resilient and connected infrastructure, with the goal of improving access to and efficient delivery of water, energy, food, and mobility systems.”

Programs begin before walls go up

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack engage in a dialogue about water during the inaugural CSU System Water in the West Symposium in 2018.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack engage in a dialogue about water during the inaugural CSU System Water in the West Symposium in 2018.

While buildings are on their way, CSU is not waiting for the ribbon cuttings; programs that mirror future efforts are already underway.

In 2018, the CSU System also launched the Water in the West Symposium, bringing together multidisciplinary thought leaders to discuss solutions to local and global water challenges. The inaugural event sold out with more than 400 attendees, and will have a permanent home at the future National Western Center. The 2019 Symposium is planned for Nov. 6-7.

The National Western Center will also be home to the Salazar Center for North American Conservation, founded by former U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, which will serve as a venue for discussion of difficult issues, opportunities for innovation, and development of new approaches to key challenges.

The Salazar Center will promote a large-scale and systemic view of North American conservation by exploring the implications of interlinked challenges like climate adaptation, land use change, biodiversity loss, and human well-being.

“As an external-facing, impact-oriented program, we look forward to advancing best-in-class solutions to conservation challenges as part of the National Western Center,” said Beth Conover, director of the Salazar Center.

Beginning in September 2019, the center will host its inaugural international symposium on landscape connectivity in partnership with the Biennial of the Americas, and launch an incentive prize to recognize and reward groups that combine research, policy, and practice for impact at scale.

Anchored in community

The CSU System is taking seriously its responsibility as a permanent neighbor to the surrounding communities of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. With an asset-based approach to serving the community, CSU is supporting existing community events, responding to community needs and interests, and seeking opportunities to enhance educational opportunities for area youth.

To date, community outreach has included forming more than 15 community partnerships in the neighborhood, with efforts ranging from student engagement in the project buildout to animal health clinics in partnership with a local community center.

The Temple Grandin Equine Center will open its second official location at the future site, but is operating in a temporary location near the redevelopment. The CSU center is already providing physical and occupational therapy, mental health counseling, equine facilitated learning, adaptive horsemanship, and recreational therapy to more than 100 people each month.

“Whether it is a 4-year-old with autism utilizing equine movement for sensory input, a veteran with post-traumatic stress working with a counselor receiving equine-assisted psychotherapy, or a senior adult with dementia whose youthful memories just came flooding back because of the smell and touch of a horse, the programs offered at the Temple Grandin Equine Center are impactful and beneficial to individuals of all ages, disabilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Director Adam Daurio.

A partnership with Bruce Randolph School, the local middle school and high school, brings students to visit CSU campuses, engages freshmen in understanding that college is attainable, and works directly with STEM, physics, human geography, and civics classes. A CSU initiative launching in Fall 2019 will provide youth direct input related to the National Western Center redevelopment and opportunities for paid internships and employment.

CSU’s Little Shop of Physics brings science experiments to Bruce Randolph School.
8th graders from Bruce Randolph Middle School visit the CSU campus in Fort Collins, which is held annually for the entire 8th grade class.
Freshmen students from Bruce Randolph High School participate in Road to CSU, designed to help students think about college as a viable option.

The CSU System’s partnership with Bruce Randolph School through programs such as the Little Shop of Physics and Road to CSU helps to prepare students for life beyond high school.

The buildout

The CSU System is planning a construction groundbreaking during the National Western Stock Show in 2020, and anticipates the CSU buildings to be open in 2022. 

CSU selected JE Dunn as the construction company tasked with bringing the three facilities out of the ground, and Anderson Mason Dale as the designer for the food and agriculture building. Hord Copeland Macht and SmithGroup are the architects for the water building, and The Clark Enersen Partners are designing the animal health complex.

CSU expects the construction to employ more than 2,000 people.

The National Western Center, a 250-acre site at the intersection of Interstates 25 and 70, is one of the largest infill projects in the country. The project is flanked by new development, including the River North Art District (RiNo), Westfield’s development of North Wynkoop, and the 60,000-square-foot Mission Ballroom, Denver’s newest concert venue.

CSU is a founding partner of the National Western Center project, along with City and County of Denver, the Western Stock Show Association, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and History Colorado.

True to CSU’s focus on sustainability, a 10-person faculty sustainability team is providing technical assistance to project designers and developing a research agenda for the site. The site will become a living lab, with the ability to measure the environmental impacts of the redevelopment.

While the overall funding model for the site is varied, the CSU System building construction received bipartisan legislative support in 2015. The Colorado legislature passed a bill to fund the System’s capital costs for the buildings related to the future National Western Center campus — approving $200 million for the construction of the CSU buildings, and $50 million for buildings on the Fort Collins campus that will provide programmatic continuity and connectivity.

“This will be a front door to the world-class research at CSU, an opportunity to create citizen scientists, to see artists and veterinarians alike in action – and perhaps to inspire a child who might not know where food comes from now, but will someday help solve the global food crisis,” said Amy Parsons, executive vice chancellor of the CSU System. “These buildings are much more than buildings – what happens within them will change the world.”

About the Colorado State University System

The Colorado State University System encompasses three distinct universities: CSU, a leading public research university and the state’s only land-grant institution, located in Fort Collins; CSU-Pueblo, a regional-serving campus and federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution; and CSU-Global, the nation’s first fully accredited online university. The CSU System’s institutions serve nearly 60,000 students annually. Learn more about the CSU System and its institutions, projects, and partnerships at csusystem.edu.