Westminster Community College Gateway Center

VM Building Solutions USA

A project case history by The Metal Initiative

Thanks to its modern design using a brilliant zinc-panel exterior that appears to float above a fieldstone foundation and vast expanse of windows, the Gateway Center presents a shining port of entry for students, many of whom are new immigrants to the United States.

The center is the dramatic focal point for the campus of Westchester Community College in Valhalla, NY, which provides the largest number of English language courses in the country.

Completed in 2010, the facility serves as a hub for the college’s renowned English Language Institute and international student services. According to Kevin Garvey, director of physical plant at the college, the center serves as the school’s first centralized location for the Institute’s language and business classes. “It’s a very big program,” he said. “Now if someone has questions or issues, they know exactly where to go. It’s very welcoming and inviting.”

The metal design is an architectural beacon in several ways. With strategically spaced steel rods providing sunscreening on the south-facing façade, the modular design gives the impression that the zinc metal panels and sunscreens are floating above the natural landscape, according to architect Susan Rodriguez, FAIA, design partner at New York City-based Ennead Architects. The design also takes advantage of the sloping topography of the site. “The Gateway Center’s relationship to the landscape is really fundamental,” Rodriguez explains. “The landscape and [natural] light flows through it.”

Zinc panels also enclose a 60-ft tapered tower near the building’s south wing, which serves as the highest point on campus and also as a “compositional exclamation point,” she says. At night, the zinc is illuminated by LED light. Like a lighthouse, it is the first thing that many Westchester students see when they return to campus in the darkness.

Thick but Flexible Panels
The exterior of the center’s north wing is clad in thick 1.5-mm zinc panels. “It’s a unique system,” said Alex Pittman, manager of the project. “There is a standing seam in the panels but, because of that, it has diagonal flashing in between. That made it very unique because the horizontal panels had to line up with the vertical panels.”

Rather than precutting the panels to the sizes and shapes needed for the project, Pittman said the panel manufacturer, Umicore Building Products USA, Inc., shipped coils of panel sheets to the site and allowed the installer, Barrett Roofing, to transform them there.

According to Pittman, the onsite process cut down on waste and allowed installers to cut sheets of varying widths and make their own flashing. “Zinc is very malleable material so it’s able to conform to a lot of different shapes to fit in with the designs of architects.”

Rodriguez agrees that the zinc panels are both flexible and beautiful. “Barrett Roofing did beautiful work with the zinc,” she said. “It’s almost like it was a fabric. On the tower in particular, the ability to curve those corners was important.”

In all, 30,000 sq ft of zinc metal paneling was used on the building, helping the Gateway Center to be honored with myriad awards, including the Metal Construction Association’s 2011 Chairman’s Award for design excellence in an education project. However, the benefits of using the metal panels go beyond their aesthetic appeal.

Easy Long-Term Maintenance
In addition to being economical, Pittman said there is no long-term maintenance required. “If installed correctly, it can last many decades so that’s something architects love about it,” he said. “You don’t have to go up and caulk joints or repaint 20 years from now. Once it’s installed, it’ll look that way for years to come with no maintenance.”

It’s Green
The building’s use of natural light and sustainable elements helped it achieve Gold certification in the U.S. Green Building Council LEED program. It is the first LEED-certified building owned by Westchester County, according to Pittman.

“Even though it’s a new building, it fits in well with the campus,” said Garvey. “It’s something the college can be proud of. Everybody has been enjoying it.”

About the Metal Construction Association

The Metal Construction Association (MCA) is an organization of manufacturers and suppliers whose metal wall and roofing components are used in buildings throughout North America. The association's mission is to grow the use of metal through market development, education, technical programs and selective action on public policies that affect the use of metal in building projects. To learn more, visit www.metalconstruction.org.

About The Metal Initiative

The Metal Initiative is an industry wide program to expand the use of metal materials in construction through various educational programs and market development efforts. Visit www.themetalinitiative.com for additional information and educational resources in the commercial construction market.


VMZINC_logoVMZINC® is the international brand name of rolled zinc products manufactured and sold VM Building Solutions USA. For additional information, visit www.vmzinc-us.com.

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