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Monday, April 21, 2014

Design proposal to reshape campus

Published March 21st, 2013

There are four boards in the University Center’s Involvement Center with images of the UW-River Falls campus. The difference between how campus is depicted on the boards and how it looks outside the UC frosted windows is the campus mall’s layout and appearance.

The black clock that is outside the lower level of the library has been moved to the middle of where the current South Hall parking lot rests. There is a rounded sitting wall swooping around the green in front of the UC and there are grand stone entryways at both sides of campus.

These plans sketched out by Landscape Architect Shane Bernau could be the reality for the UWRF campus in the next 10 years, said Mike Stifter, executive director of administrative services and part of the planning team.

Bernau is an architect with Ken Saiki Design, Inc. that was hired by UWRF to put together a plan for an updated campus mall.

When the design process started last October, the planning team met with “different groups around campus to give us their thoughts, opinions, ideas of what some of the best things to do would be to change the mall area,” said Joeseph McIntosh, the grounds supervisor on campus and point person for the campus mall project.

This collaboration of ideas has made the design project fun for Bernau because “there’s so many different people who are invested in it,” he said.

These different groups include the UC staff, Faculty Senate, Student Senate and Residence Life staff.

From there, the design team created three ideas, only then to “funnel [them] down to a good design that looks feasible,” Stifter said.

Those ideas are represented in the current mall design that is depicted on the boards in the Involvement Center. Before those boards were displayed, an open forum was held March 13 to present the final design to the campus and community.

Sydney Hall, a sophomore on campus, said she was interested to see what the project had developed into and was most interested in the seating circle Bernau incorporated.

“I always like it when there’s lots of outdoor seating and stuff, especially in the summer when it’s warmer out. It’s always nice to study outside and stuff,” Hall said.

Koehler Lange is another student, like Hall, who had heard about the design through the boards posted in the Involvement Center. He said he was very interested in the project and wanted to know more, but was excited to see how the campus would change.

“I look forward to seeing the changes, every year there’s generally something that’s upgraded and it’s nice to see that upgrade,” he said.

This coming school year will probably see more trees planted and the very start of the landscaping of the design, Stifter said. The more dramatic changes will not be until later down the road, he said.

McIntosh said changing the campus into a more pedestrian- friendly area was a central concern in the planning phases. Other areas that include more pedestrian friendliness are the widened sidewalks that allow more space for walking and biking, and putting in sidewalks where there is already heavy traffic.

Specifically, this could include the blue rock lane that is currently outside of the library in the back of South Hall, said McIntosh.

The part he is most excited for is to move the parking lot behind South Hall to the western side of the building.  He said that currently students are using it as a walking path, which makes sense with the design, but he said he sees it as a hazard.

“It’s not a real safe situation to have a parking lot as a pedestrian way,” McIntosh said.

Stifter agreed with him saying that it was unsafe and that it would be a natural opportunity to fix this safety concern when the campus is being updated.

Since the project just finished the design phase, “now it’s coming down to now how do we implement it and how soon can we implement it,” Stifter said.

The process of how they are going to implement it currently centers around budgeting. By end the of the school year, Stifter said they will have costs worked out for the phases they are currently developing. Once the amount of money it will take to implement the design has been determined, then the planning team will be figuring out how to pay for what.

The money will most likely be coming form a variety of different “hands,” he said.

For instance, if the parking lot is moved to the west side of South Hall, the parking office could help pay for that, he said.

If the new science building is built in place of Hagestad Hall, then part of their budget for the building could go into the landscaping work down needed as a result.

“I just don’t want to put it on the backs of any one entity,” he said.

One thing he said to keep in mind is that it “could be a couple of years really before we get started.”

He pointed to the Falcon Center saying that it took years of discussion before that was planned and built and while it may not take that long to implement the campus mall project, it won’t be done in a summer either. He said this project could take around 10 years to be completed because things like other campus building projects and campus finances will effect it.

Just because a plan has been drawn does not mean for Stifter that it is set in stone.
“This isn’t a ‘we’re doing this,’” he said. “I mean it will always be aligning the resources with the priorities, and then moving accordingly.”

He said while this plan is exciting, that currently, “we have a beautiful campus in many ways, it’s a very open campus, but I think here’s an opportunity again to highlight and clean up a couple known dynamics.”

If the design works out and is implemented, Bernau said “I believe we have a chance to improve the outdoor environment of the River Falls campus and make it a place where faculty students and visitors can really take pride in and enjoy being in.”

Stifter suggested that if students have comments or feedback about the design that was posted in the Involvement Center, to contact McIntosh, who is serving as the point person for the design project.

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