A Word from Our Owners – Damien Center

Alan Witchey is president and CEO of the Damien Center, Indiana’s oldest and largest HIV/AIDS service organization. Alan began working with the Damien Center as a volunteer in the 1990s and later became a full-time employee. He has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management, previously serving as executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP).



Some Owners come to us as they are still developing the vision for their space. They need an outside perspective on what is working currently and what isn’t—should they make renovations, add on, find a new space, or build from scratch?

Damien Center, Indiana’s oldest and largest HIV/AIDS service organization, serves more than 4,000 individuals affected by HIV/AIDS every year. They’ve seen an increased demand for their wraparound services, as well as shifting demographics. They knew their existing space wasn’t working perfectly anymore, but they needed guidance. Schmidt Associates conducted a building and space needs assessment to help them determine their next steps.

Why are the services the Damien Center provides so critical?

People with HIV are more likely to have other sexually transmitted diseases, higher rates of homelessness, and mental health and addiction issues. It’s very common for our clients to come in and have a host of other issues that need to be addressed, including food insecurity, legal issues, or counseling needs. We can address all of those issues collectively under one roof. We’re a one-stop-shop.

The sooner they get into care, the more likely they are to be adherent to their medication regimen and eventually become virally suppressed. That means they are living a healthy, normal life, and they cannot pass on the virus to others.

Have you seen trends in the demand for your services that affect your facility needs?

When we are considering future spaces, we really have to look at who is accessing services here. One of the key things we continue to see is a growth in young people that need support and services. Many of the new infections are among young people ages 18 to 29. That means services and outreach efforts and education all have to be tailored to meet their needs and appeal to them. We also see a lot of patients who are racial or ethnic minorities—that’s the majority of our clientele. So how do we make sure that everything we’re doing is culturally competent? We also serve the LGBTQ+ population, who are often marginalized and not accepted in many areas of their lives.

Many of our clients don’t feel comfortable going to a large medical institution. Parking in a giant parking garage, getting inside the building, getting around when things aren’t labeled well. The institutionalized feel of those buildings doesn’t make people feel comfortable and safe.

As we serve those key populations, they need to feel this is a second home for them. We want them to feel welcomed, accepted, and seen as valuable. We often hear that patients don’t feel welcome in their own home, but they feel welcome here.

Why did you do a building/space needs assessment?

One key issue we struggle with is space. It’s hard when you’re not in [the architecture business] to know how to translate the need into actual square footage. I know we need more space for certain departments, but I don’t know what that means. We wanted to assess our current space — How are we using it? Are there other ways we can use it more effectively? Can we build on to gain enough space, or do we need to find another location, or would we need to build from the ground up?

What did you learn?

The surprise was that we need more space than we thought. We found we were using the space as well as we could and using all available spaces—we were cramming into closets and hallways, which makes it complicated to provide services.

We’re also in an old building, so we are not always ADA compliant. We are grandfathered in right now with this building, but in a new space, we have to learn and follow these regulations. That’s hard to figure out on your own.

What challenges do you face in pursuing a new space?

We have a strong vision of what we’re trying to create, but we have to understand the space we need. We have to think about not just where we are today, but how we make sure a new space is not immediately outdated and will accommodate us five or 10 years in the future. In our industry in particular, there are a lot of changes and evolutions in care. Where we will be in five years will be radically different than where we are today.

We know how to save people, improve people’s lives. But we don’t know how to build buildings. It is really important for us to have someone like Schmidt Associates to give us the knowledge and expertise so we can make educated decisions.

What opportunities do you see for your program in the future?

There’s been a growth in health disparities in our community and our country, and I think Damien Center is really committed to being at the forefront to address those issues. Our key goal is to improve the health of our community as a whole, and in order to do that, we need to improve the health of our clients and patients.

It would be amazing if we could have a brand new building on a new piece of property that is very celebratory of the past, as well as recognizing our future—something that culturally makes a lot of sense and helps us meet our patients where they are.

The Heart of the Placemaking Process

Every place evokes feelings for people. A great place feels welcoming, exciting, curious, comforting—and maybe even inspiring. Your designated place always has the opportunity to evoke vastly different feelings than it does now. In downtown places, reinvestment from all parties is evident and necessary—and generates a lot of interest and excitement. A Placemaking Plan does just that—it defines an area within the community as a place of significance and puts a plan in place to reflect that vision. The process includes cultivating new ideas and generating partnerships that share in the investment and creativity of the place.

1. Gain Input

  • Community Workshop: The targeted audience for the workshop is neighboring residents, business, and property owners. Serves as the community’s foundation for discovering and sharing:
    • Placemaking best practices nation-wide
    • Real-time information
    • Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
    • Initial programming thoughts and priorities
    • Conceptual design ideas
  • Small-Group Stakeholder Meetings: The purpose of these types of meetings is gathering stakeholders in a casual environment to share their interest and influence for the project. We brainstorm their ideas to continue building momentum and support for a civic place. Typical targeted attendees would be specific property/business owners, university and city representatives, chamber of commerce officials, and convention and visitors bureau representatives.
  • Community Empowerment: The transformation of places is intentional so the community will feel a sense of ownership about its recreation as a vibrant public space. This step is crucial. Begin educating and generating ideas at the community workshop and stakeholder workshop. To create community empowerment, Schmidt Associates has found that allowing physical and deliberate interaction with the space is essential.

2. Visualize Ideas
Just like places evoke emotions, so do illustrations. Understand the importance of vivid sketches and renderings. The right image can help raise support, funding, and excitement for any project.

3. Plan For Action
Planning to make action has to be intentional. In all of Schmidt Associates’ planning work, we detail a roadmap for leadership to take action.



Does Your School Really Need New Construction?

Schools serve as a fixture within their communities, stirring up nostalgic moments for past students. Like for the college student driving past their old elementary school on their way through town during their first break away from school, remembering those days on the playground during recess. Or for the parents of high school students, strolling through the familiar hallways during parent-teacher night. Or for the spectators who pack in the basketball gym, year after year to support the town’s team. These schools serve as a significant piece of the community’s history far beyond the lessons taught within the classrooms.

When these schools inevitably start to age, the student population starts to grow, or when the schools simply can’t keep up with new programming demands, there needs to be a discussion about what to do moving forward with the facility. Do you really need to tear down the school that has been standing on Main Street for generations and build a completely new building? Can you just update the systems on the inside? Is there enough land on the lot to add a new wing?

Determining whether your school needs new construction begins with developing a space needs facility assessment, looking at both the physical conditions of the building and its capacity to serve educational programming needs. When used correctly, this tool accurately reflects the programs offered and how a facility should look under ideal student loading conditions. We described this tool in a previous blog here as a mechanism to establish criteria to determine equity between and among facilities.

In conjunction with spaces to accommodate the educational program, it is critical to identify and quantify the support areas, such as cafeteria, media area(s), small- and large-group spaces, administrative and mentoring spaces, and the core requirements of restrooms, mechanical, and technology support spaces. Incorporating adjacency studies helps assess whether an existing facility can be adapted, expanded and repurposed, or if it would be more educationally appropriate and cost-effective to build something new.

Adjacencies and facility layouts play a significant role in selecting a new site. Site size is important, but access to the site for vehicles and utilities is equally important to the ultimate success of a new educational facility.

Three key factors contribute to school site selection:

  1. Site size and configuration, including grading, natural vegetation and surrounding contextual elements
  2. Site location and access, as well as the feeder mechanism or facility transformation of elementary, middle, and high school space needs
  3. Natural and legislated external factors, such as drainage ways, utility access, and zoning.

As always, we recommend talking with an architect about your facility before determining if you need new construction.

Philosophy of Space Planning and Design

In order to produce a strong space plan and design, Schmidt Associates believes a proven process must be followed. In simplest form, the process can be defined as having five main components:

Space Planning and Design Flow Chart


Mission and Goals
A “Core Group” comprised of key decision-makers will help define the objectives, desired culture, and vision. By creating common expectations, the remaining process elements will have a clearly defined path for success.

Develop a Baseline
This looks at how you are currently operating (from both the soft side and the building systems) to develop a facility baseline. The soft side includes how you use your space, how many occupants there are, and an evaluation of the current program. The assessment of the building systems looks at things like mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and technology.

Vision for the Future
Your vision reflects the desires of your key stakeholders and building occupants. Users should be surveyed about workplace environment to understand how the occupants would like to use their work space and to engage them in the process.

Also, an evaluation of the existing building systems needs to occur. This will create a vision from the baseline data to determine the most effective improvements to reach your systems’ goals.

Bridge the Gap
Next, you will need to create the plan that will bridge the gap—taking you from your Baseline to your Vision for the Future. This bridge will include a Conceptual Space Plan to maximize your building space utilization and reflect your vision. It includes a Building Systems Plan so you can easily make system changes that will save you money and maintenance. A schedule and budget will be defined to determine possible ways to implement the plan.

One of the most important steps in the process is to build in time for re-evaluation of the planning effort. Does the plan truly reflect the mission, vision, and goals? If so, the planning effort is complete. If not, the interim steps must be evaluated and repeated if necessary.

Elevate Your Expectations for Downtown Development, Part II

In my Indianapolis Business Journal column listing 10 things Indianapolis could do to make our already thriving downtown an even better place to live, the second item was: Have the guts (and the money) to build more than five stories.

Downtown Indianapolis has a few notable existing and planned high-rise places to live, but many of the new residential projects are four stories. If we’re going to get to sustainable urban density, we need to mix in more mid-rise places to live.

Sustainable urban density is what it takes to support a healthy base of restaurants and retail. While our Mass Ave and Fountain Square restaurants are busy from 6 to 8 p.m., similar restaurants in Chicago would still be crowded until 10 p.m. Our sidewalks and retail stores might be bustling on a Saturday afternoon, but many are empty other parts of the day and days of the week. Right now it’s taking longer to fill the first-floor retail and restaurant spaces in new mixed-use buildings than it is to rent or sell the residential units above them. We need to correct that imbalance with more buildings that have more stories of residential above the retail.

Sustainable urban density also keeps downtown walkable, so you can easily walk or bike to work. If there are too many four-story buildings, they sprawl out over more land to meet the demand for downtown living. That’s what spread the city out before, and we should try to avoid that in this new wave of urban living.

Granted, it is more expensive to build structures that are more than four stories. Once a structure is designed to be above a 78-foot height, building code requires a steel structure, and the elevators must be electric powered, not hydraulic.

But taller buildings also give building owners better value for the footprint of the land. To make buildings economically sustainable, the owner needs a certain number of units to sell or rent. Rents can be more reasonable when there are more units per building, and downtown needs more affordable units for young professionals.

Do we want all high-rises downtown? No, our city is more visually interesting and inviting with a mix of building heights.

Good design is important, and enhances the economics as we consider what makes downtown living work.

What Makes a Hotel Easily Accessible?

There are plenty of rules and guidelines when it comes to designing accessible spaces—but there are things that still do not make it EASY for people to use.

When working with The Arc of Indiana to design their new Training Institute and Teaching Hotel, we had the opportunity to sit down with a group from the Self Advocates of Indiana. We learned from them what it is like to experience life when you walk with a chair. Their insights were invaluable and helped shape many of the design features in the hotel. Some of those include:

  • Wider doors to accessible rooms with actuators – Have you ever tried to carry your luggage, while trying to finagle your key card, and open your door? Sure, we all have. But have you ever tried to do that in a wheelchair? In order to make room access easier for guests, all accessible guest rooms will have wider entry doors for maneuverability and actuators to automatically open the door.
  • Three areas of the room with a full turning radius – Accessible rooms are set up for an individual to turn around. When you have more than one individual walking with a chair, space to maneuver quickly becomes very tight.
  • Mirrored accessible rooms providing restroom fixture controls on either side – Since most hotel rooms’ stack, there is a good chance all accessible rooms are replicas of each other. This can be a huge problem since there are some disabilities that effect one side of the body and not the other. If you have a room where the controls for your shower are on the wrong side, there is no way to reach them.
  • Windows located next to Areas of Refuge in the stairwells – In the case of an emergency, people with mobility issues will be able to see what is going on while waiting for evacuation help.
  • Grassy areas to accommodate companion dogs – Located in a downtown setting, an area for dogs can be difficult to come by. Space has been maintained just outside the side door.


Overall, designing a hotel has many components. When thinking of a hotel featured to accommodate persons with disabilities, you have to think outside the box. The lessons learned above should be applied to all hotels for increased mobility, not just The Arc of Indiana’s new Training Institute and Teaching Hotel.

Elevate Your Expectations for Downtown Development, Part I

A couple of months ago I was honored to write a column for the Indianapolis Business Journal about 10 things Indianapolis could do to make our already thriving downtown an even better place to live.

Number one on my list is investing in more parks as an amenity to keep young urban dwellers downtown after they have kids. Although we have some great parks—White River State Park, University Park, the American Legion Plaza, and the small but lovely Davlan Park across from our office, we need more of them.

I once visited Las Vegas on business and planned to get my daily dose of running. When I asked at the hotel desk where I’d find a nearby park, the man behind the desk looked puzzled and asked, “What would you do in park?” That told me Las Vegas is not a walkable city!

Think about the great cities where people of all ages live downtown: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. You’ll find these walkable cities all offer an assortment of parks that add color and flavor to the urban experience.

Some parks are for sitting and looking at nature, to give you a break on your walk from apartment to shopping to restaurants. Some parks are for running, exercise, or even ice skating. Some are for walking your dog. Some (Grant Park, the Washington mall, and our American Legion Plaza come to mind) can host events. Other parks are for playing—and even then, you have a mixture of pocket parks interspersed among bigger ones with playground equipment and basketball courts.

Central Park in New York is large enough to incorporate all those uses and a zoo! But even with the country’s largest urban park and some of the world’s most expensive real estate, New York still finds room for smaller squares and plazas accessible to residents throughout the city.

The architect in me can’t resist offering suggestions to successfully incorporate more parks into Indianapolis’ downtown:

  • Walking distance: Urban dwellers don’t want to drive if they can avoid it. At least one park (and preferably several parks) should be within walking distance of every urban dweller’s residence. We should plan for that whenever additional urban housing is proposed.
  • Incorporate different parks for different uses: We have parks that fulfill some of the needs above, but we need more of them and downtown Indianapolis needs at least one park with a big playground.
  • Park designs should facilitate interaction: Include chess boards and other elements that encourage people to interact with one another. The potential for interaction is part of what makes downtown living so attractive. It brings people of all ages and backgrounds together, and the world needs more of that!
  • Facilitate interaction, part 2: Parks with playgrounds don’t just encourage children to interact, their parents begin to visit as well. “Who’s your pediatrician? Where are you sending your daughter to preschool?” Those conversations among adults as they push their toddlers in the swings help parents find their “tribe” of other young parents. Before you know it, they resist moving to the suburbs because they’d have to leave their tribe behind.
  • Co-locate parks with coffee shops and ice cream stores: Consuming your refreshments of choice in the park encourages you to linger.
  • Incorporate public art into urban parks: The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100 Acre Park is a wonderful place combining art and nature. But it also encourages people to be playful—walking on the skeleton’s bones or bouncing your own basketball to mirror colorful metal arches. Public art doesn’t have to be as large and sprawling as the 100 Acre Park. A brass turtle suitable for climbing or a huge wooden head are enough to add a new sensory dimension to even a small pocket park.


What’s your favorite city for urban living? Let me know what you like about it. I’ll bet involves parks.

50 Letters From Architects: Our Contribution

This is part of a series of blog postings of Schmidt Associates architects’ responses to the American Institute of Architects (AIA)-Indianapolis invitation to write letters to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. Architects submitted big or small ideas to improve the urban built environment for Indianapolis and were on display at The Hall during June and July of 2014.

Dear Mayor,

One of the most exciting aspects of architectural design is the initial conceptual planning and collaborative interaction. Few people ever see that part of the process, and only see the finished building or space.

Toms Graphic

I would like to propose a series of interactive zones around the city that could be called “conceptulons”. These zones would promote interactive discussion about the process that generated or is still generating activity. It could be a combination of touch screen and information technology and wi-fi hot spots.



Elevate the Expectations

The following editorial was featured in the October 17, 2014, issue of the Indianapolis Business Journal. Each month, a post will be made further describing each of my 10 ideas for elevating the expectations for downtown. Check back for more information and share your thoughts with me.

Elevate the Expectations
By Wayne Schmidt

It’s easy to pat ourselves on the back about the vibrant downtown areas of Mass Ave, Fountain Square, Monument Circle, White River State Park. We’ve come a long way, and people love to spend time in these places.

But we shouldn’t be content. Visit Chicago—or a similar-sized city—and notice the difference. While our Mass Ave and Fountain Square restaurants are busy from 6 to 8 p.m., similar restaurants in Chicago would still be crowded until 10 p.m. Our sidewalks and retail stores might be bustling on a Saturday afternoon, but many are empty other parts of the day and days of the week.

Despite new upscale residential developments popping up downtown as fast as people can build them, we need more urban density to support a healthy base of restaurants and retail.

We need to elevate the expectations. At the same time, we must ask ourselves whose “expectations” do we care about? Just the 30-somethings with executive jobs? Or a broader group? Here are ten ideas for elevating the expectations for downtown:

  • Invest in amenities that keep young urban dwellers downtown after they have kids. Pocket parks and a few major playgrounds are small investments to keep young families downtown and encourage the interaction that makes downtown living so attractive.
  • Have the guts (and the money) to build more than five stories. If we’re going to get to sustainable urban density, we’ll need more mid-rise places to live.
  • Mix in more affordable housing. Starter living units with lower price points will lure sought-after young professionals earlier.
  • Face up to the fact that urban dwellers may not have cars, which means we’ll need more forms of public transportation. Yes, huge public transportation projects between suburbs, downtown and the airport are good ideas. And the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare is great. But urban dwellers need additional simple solutions, such as downtown trolleys or shuttles for major shopping trips and events.
  • Find creative ways to lure people from one downtown neighborhood to another. For example, bars in the trendy Soulard district of St. Louis run shuttles to baseball games and other sporting events. It disperses the crowd (and the parking) around downtown.
  • Make bus stops more attractive. It’s another relatively inexpensive way to encourage people to use existing public transportation .
  • Hoosiers, get over yourself about walking. We don’t have to drive to the front door of every restaurant or store. Enjoy the fresh air and build your fitness by walking. It’s what urban dwellers do!
  • Don’t ignore the 60+ crowd. They want to walk to work and enjoy urban living, too.
  • Encourage opportunities for people-to-people interaction. That could be game nights, the above-mentioned pocket parks and playgrounds, board games in the parks, or informal talks on music, art, books and politics. It makes urban living fun.
  • See downtown as a whole. Each individual neighborhood is unique, but we must stop competing among them and connect the pieces. When we see downtown as a whole, more medical students from the west side will dine on Mass Ave, sports fans and convention goers will visit Fountain Square, and Mass Ave residents will attend a Colts game or a White River State Park concert.


All you have to do is elevate the expectations!

Higher Education Alphabet Soup

In mid-September, Schmidt Associates posted an online quiz called “Higher Education Archibabble – Knowledgeable or Naïve.” As part of the quiz, there were several acronyms (a.k.a. alphabet soup) which described higher education trends, teaching methodologies, etc. Since then, we’ve been asked to elaborate on the acronyms, as well as to share how these concepts are incorporated in the built, higher educational environment.

LLC – Living Learning Community
An LLC is a residential living arrangement, where college/university students of similar educational pursuits are brought together. This living arrangement is an intentional extension of the classroom learning experience, which is purposefully complimented in the living environment. Parents, as well as students, love this setup because it connects students to others of similar interests much earlier in their college/university experiences, making a larger campus community much more accessible. Many freshmen on campuses across the country now have the option of choosing to live in an LLC—immediately immersing them in a community—sharing new experiences with others who share their major.

Below is an exterior, rendered view of Ball State University’s Johnson A Complex, where emerging technologies students will live starting in the Fall of 2015. This residence hall has many features that allow these students to collaborate on projects in the comfort of their own living quarters. The 5th floor lounge space incorporates video production technology and enhanced communication features so that groups can practice their future profession and develop content after hours.

Ball State University Johnson A Complex Exterior Rendering

Ball State University’s Johnson B Complex, currently in development, will house the theater/dance/design students beginning in the fall of 2017. This LLC will include specialized features such as a dance rehearsal room and a black-box theater (a minimalist theater space where scenery is stripped out into its purest form). These highly specialized spaces can be “checked out” or rented by the students living in this residence hall, to practice individually or in small groups, at any time.

LLC’s are quickly becoming more and more prominent on university campuses across the country because of their ability to enhance the collaborative learning experience. To learn more about LLC’s, feel free to contact Beth Wood of Schmidt Associates at