Fire and Safety Protection in High-Traffic Student Spaces

As part of the University of Arizona’s revitalization project, the school’s Bear Down Gym was remodeled to help create the university’s new Student Success District.

The multiphase campus building renovation project included renovations to the Main Library, Science Library and Bear Down Gym buildings as part of the school’s initiative to enhance student performance.

But this kind of undertaking comes with a number of challenges, especially when some of the buildings on the campus are almost 100 years old.

Blending the Old With the New


Jon Mirto, Architect/Principal with PMM Architects, led the team handling the Bear Down Gym’s renovation. “It consisted of retaining a portion of the old Gymnasium while introducing a very contemporary, three-story atrium design element,” Jon explained.

This kind of renovation meant retaining elements from the campus’ iconic buildings, and at nearly a century old, their history was important. But architects were responsible for “blending the old gym and the new Student Success District theme, design, and programming elements.”

Gymnasium designs can vary wildly and each room that makes up such a space needs to be addressed in the renovation. The new Bear Down Gym included an atrium and several stairways that needed additional fire and smoke protection. “Aside from the everyday challenges of renovating a nearly 100-year-old building, atrium smoke control became a significant consideration,” says Jon.

Addressing Fire and Smoke Protection

The architectural team knew that both active mechanical and passive smoke control design options were needed for the renovation.

Atrium designs allow for smoke to be pulled into the upper levels of a building more easily, without any protection. In the Bear Down Gym’s original plans, appropriate fire and smoke protection weren’t accounted for, or even required at the time of construction. Adding in these safety measures decades later took some strategy and the right products, especially with the building’s new atrium.

“When striking a balance between design, existing building conditions, and budget, Smoke Guard became the preferred solution with a combination of systems,” said Jon. “It worked both from a cost standpoint as well as design integration into the existing historic building.”

Solutions for Atrium and Building Protection

The design team for the Bear Down Gym’s renovation used a combination of fire and smoke protection products to amp up safety in the design. “We used four M3000 Horizontal Curtain systems to subdivide the atrium horizontally,” explains Jon.

The building’s stairway and elevator designs were also addressed in the renovation. Smoke Guard’s M2100 vertical curtains were installed, and the rewind switches were mounted at the stairs for ease of operation. “We also installed one M200 smoke curtain at the elevator hoistway,” Jon says.

The architectural team worked with a Smoke Guard distributor, Norcon Industries, to help with product installation. “Norcon Industries helped us insure a quality and timely installation, even in a narrow time frame prior to the building commissioning,” says Jon.

Implementing these products will prevent smoke from traveling to the upper levels of the gymnasium and allow students to safely evacuate the building in case of an emergency.

Fire and Smoke Safety for Today’s Students


The main floor of Bear Down Gym now houses the advising resource center, tutoring programs and space for students to meet with possible employers.

“It’s a pivotal element in the UA’s commitment to support our students’ educational and career goals,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins. “Once completed, the district will feature collaborative learning spaces that engage students in active learning and with cutting-edge technology as well as inviting spaces that support student wellness and health.”

No matter how you need to design your building’s smoke and fire protection, Smoke Guard offers a full range of products to ensure any building, even a century-old gymnasium, is safe and up to code.

For more information, contact your nearest Smoke Guard distributor today.