OU Administrators Discuss Future Of Campus Changes With Emeriti Assoc.

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Smart growth, maintaining the historical appearance of structures and improving student housing were some of the topics discussed by Ohio University President Roderick McDavis and other administrators during a presentation to the OU Emeriti Association Thursday morning.

The Emeriti Association had requested that the administration update its members on construction planned for the Athens campus within the next five to 10 years. The presentation was held in the lobby of the newly renovated Schoonover Center for Communication.

“Everything we do has academic planning at its pinnacle,” said Shawna Bolin, university planner, as she highlighted the university’s six-year capital improvement plan. Bolin said the university is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan — Vision Ohio — which was created in 2006. She said some of the projects spelled out in the 2006 plan have come to fruition, including the Academic and Research Center on the West Green and the transformation of the former Baker University Center into the new Schoonover Center.

However, some other items in the 2006 plan have fallen by the wayside. For example, the plan called for expanding residential housing at The Ridges and other portions of campus. But the university’s more recent master housing plan seeks only to expand housing on the South Green. New dorms are being built on South Green, which are slated to be open for occupancy in fall 2015.

Bolin said that the six-year capital plan includes $967 million in investments on the Athens and regional campuses. She said the university is focused on “smart growth,” meaning it will be looking to use its limited resources efficiently and making sure that new growth and development meets multiple goals.

McDavis said that during his 10-year tenure as president, one of the biggest accomplishments he’s seen was when the OU trustees voted to go into a “little debt” to improve the campus by adopting the six-year capital improvement plan. He said the plan calls for renovations of 70-80 percent of all academic buildings and for all residence halls.

Joe Lalley, senior associate vice president for information technologies and administrative services, spoke about some of the less visible changes coming to the Athens campus, such as infrastructure improvements.

According to Lalley, mobile devices have become the norm, allowing learning to take place outside the walls of the classroom. He said the university will be implementing a new telephone system that will allow employees to carry their phones with them on campus and plug into phone jacks across campus to have their calls forwarded to them. Lalley said this will improve opportunities for collaboration.

With smartphones becoming increasingly popular, Lalley compared mobile devices to Swiss Army knives.

“The phone is now just a secondary function,” he said.

Lalley also told the group that the university is working to install smart thermostats in campus buildings that learn the habits of users and can predict when to turn the heat down. He said the feature will improve energy efficiency on the campus and save money.

One Emeriti Association member asked Lalley about the condition of the underground utility tunnels on campus. Lalley said there are approximately 5.5 miles of underground tunnels, some of which are more than 100 years old. He said that many of the tunnels are in poor condition and that the university is searching for ways to deal with the crumbling infrastructure.

Harry Wyatt, associate vice president for architecture, design and construction, spoke about the former Athens Lunatic Asylum, now known as The Ridges. The university acquired the former mental institution in the late 1980s. The Ridges is comprised of about 700 acres of land and 40 buildings.

The preservation of the historic buildings has been a hot topic recently as many were upset by the demolition of the former tuberculosis ward. The Ridges Advisory Committee was reformed last year and met for the first time in December. The committee is comprised of university, city and county officials, as well as community members. The committee — which will meet Friday at 2 p.m. in Baker University Center — is tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan for the The Ridges. Many of the buildings are currently in disrepair and are vacant.

Wyatt said there’s a misconception that the university has not done anything to preserve the historic buildings. He said that in fact OU has invested $50 million in The Ridges over the past 10 years.

“We’re very proud of our sense of place and how architecture and green space contribute to that,” Wyatt said. He said that as the university renovates existing structures and builds new ones the historic look of brick with white trim and limestone will be maintained on campus.

McDavis said other colleges tend to want to change the look of campuses by incorporating modern architecture but that OU has maintained its historical look through its 20 presidents. McDavis said it’s also a priority to utilize the historic buildings that already exist on campus.

Wyatt also spoke about “celebrating and conquering” the campus’ topography. He said the escalators in Baker University Center help greatly in accommodating foot travel between upper campus and lower campus. He said a new “sweeping green” that follows the former railroad bed will also allow for a more level, accessible walkway across campus.

Wyatt said there are some renovations planned for Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium this summer, such as replacing the doors and restoring the limestone steps. Emeriti Association member Karen Vedder suggested that a new performing arts center be constructed where the Maya Lin “Input” sculpture sits in Bicentennial Park in front of Walter Hall. Her suggestion drew varied reactions among the group. McDavis said the university is hoping that someone will step forward with a private gift for a new performing arts center, but stated that the Bicentennial Park isn’t the prime location.

Another Emeriti member asked about the lack of parking on campus.

“We know that parking is a challenge,” McDavis said, noting that he always tells incoming freshmen that cars are not needed on campus. Lalley said the parking situation is being evaluated and some changes could be announced this spring.

The Emeriti Association oversees and maintains the Emeriti Park on the Athens campus near Baker University Center and Walter Hall. Members of the group meet on Wednesday mornings to do routine landscaping maintenance at the park. Wyatt said that divers would be “vacuuming” the bottom of the pond at the park this summer and spreading the materials between Ping Recreation Center and the new Walter Fieldhouse to dry for 60 days. He said those materials will then be used for compost by the university.