George W. Johnson Center, George Mason University
George Mason University
Four-year, public, urban commuter
Location: Fairfax, Virginia
George W. Johnson Center
Year Built: 1995
Size: 348,447 sq. ft.
Director: Steve Morehouse
Annual Operating Budget: $11.6 million
Student Staff: 100 part-time
Nonstudent Staff: 35 full-time, 3 part-time
The George W. Johnson Center at George Mason University is the largest and busiest of three student union buildings on the campus, serving over 4 million visitors annually. With its proximity to Washington, D.C., and an airy, three-story atrium, the center has a history as an ideal public event space, having played host to U.S. presidents, senators, first ladies, and heads of state from around the world. In 1998, the center hosted the World Conference on Information Technology, which attracted former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and publisher Steve Forbes as keynote speakers.
While dignitaries have helped define the center as an event destination, it’s the students who provide most of the funding and work force that keeps the space running smoothly. Student fees fund about 80% of the annual budget, and the facility generates the remaining 20% of needed revenue from sources like equipment, building space, and locker rental fees; advertising; and games room income.
That games room, the Corner Pocket, is also a multifunctional space that can host performances and special events, and second- and third-floor library stacks accommodate students with quiet spaces to relax. Most of the socializing and interaction occurs in either the large, open food court that offers eight different restaurants, or in a second floor area called Greek Row where members of organizations tend to gather, study, and socialize.
More than 100 part-time student employees manage the day-to-day operations, and with the re-establishment last year of a student center advisory board, students also have a means for advising staff on issues related to students, student center operations, programming, employee recognition and appreciation programs, and employee trainings.
Water bottle refill stations are located on every floor, an open station that offered plastic utensils has been transitioned away to reduce waste. In addition, building accessibility will be improved this year with card access capabilities and automated entry doors. If another improvement could be implemented, the center could use more space for students to rest.
“We would purchase sleeping and napping pods for our students,” said Ric S. McClendon, associate director for student centers. “Across our student center facilities, we find students napping everywhere. They feel right at home, as they should, but we just want to make it a little more comfortable.”
In all, George Mason’s Division of Auxiliary Enterprises oversees three main facilities that cumulatively total more than 607,00 square feet of space. In addition to the Johnson Center, Student Union Buildings I and II house lounges, meeting and conference rooms, dining spaces, and service centers for orientation, family programming, and health services.