Notes on Campus Master Plan Discussion
UNC Asheville Board of Trustees
July 11, 2011
Rob Nelson introduced Eric Boyce, Dee Eggers, Max Queen from AB Tech and Don Gordon, all members of the Campus Master Plan (CMP) working group. He noted that Student Government Association President and Board of Trustees member Renee Bindewald was also a member of the working group.
The proposed draft Campus Master Plan Guiding Principles were developed over the course of several meetings of the steering committee and the working group. Discussions covered best practices, previous master plans, and the strategic plan. Members of the group have also met with hundreds of stake holders - parents, alumni, foundation board members, community members, faculty, staff, and students.
Some of what has been learned:
- The UNC Asheville community, the people who teach, work and learn here, love the University and are committed to its mission, its vision, and its long-term success.
- Almost everyone consulted during the past few months expressed concerns about the state of disrepair of some campus buildings, various ADA compliance issues, vehicular traffic and parking, pedestrian way finding, and the general appearance of the campus.
- There is a sense of pride in the work that happens on campus and that the university gets the most out of the resources available to it.
- UNC Asheville leads the UNC system in use of classroom and lab space by percentage – it far exceeds the UNC system standard. Dean of Natural Sciences Keith Krumpe’s ability to work with space, faculty and community has been very helpful in reviewing current space usage.
- As is the case in most public institutions, the cost of incremental decision-making has had its effect on the overall look of the campus and compliance with previous master plans. As a result, there has been a lack of coordination between long-term strategic planning and campus facilities.
- The former master plan was not well defined, didn't have a viable governance component, and is no longer a workable long-range plan.
- Without a cohesive, defining architectural style on campus, there is a sense that UNC Asheville’s unique mission, and the history of that mission, is the primary draw for students.
- There is complete agreement that The Quad is great -- the highlight of the campus.
- The campus and university may be better known outside Buncombe County and North Carolina than inside.
- The resolution of fundraising and development issues at UNC Asheville and a corresponding increase in unrestricted resources could solve a lot of problems.
- Enhancements to personal safety measures for students, faculty, staff and visitors were included in all discussions with stakeholders.
- Everyone has concerns about wayfinding, traffic, and parking. There are competing interests in placements of parking, roads, sidewalks, and signage.
- Financial issues, environmental issues and stewardship are all very important issues and represent competing interests that must be considered during planning for future progress and growth. Discussion on how to resolve these competing interests and still develop a cohesive master plan will continue during the 2011-12 academic year.
- There will also be future conversations on how to resolve governance issues related to campus master planning - who makes decisions; how do they get implemented; how do issues that come up after a decision is made get resolved, and how are decision-makers held accountable.
- The master plan needs to reflect the vision of the campus, reflect the strategic plan, and reflect our mission.
Work to be done:
- Set a framework for decision-making on infrastructure improvements, renovation of existing facilities and expansion.
- Determine how to maximize and make the best use of existing space to enhance the unique mission of supporting excellence in undergraduate liberal arts education.
- Determine the best location for student services (financial aid, admissions, bursar, OneStop); there is broad agreement that these services are poorly sited now.
- Develop physical space to underscore and enhance undergraduate research as a distinguishing aspect of the education here.
- Create a physical sense of architectural coherence. An example to possibly follow is the theme of mountains reflected in Sherrill Center architecture inside and out and the use of materials that reflect the environment.
- To meet the strategic plan’s goal for 50% of students to reside on campus, there is a need to find the money and space to create residential options that will attract future students.
- Create a pedestrian experience that is safe, easy, and attractive, with accessible connections to all facilities.
- Ensure access to University facilities through ADA-compliant entrances and walkways and implement improvements that support the campus’s goal to be diverse, inclusive, and welcoming.
- Define the campus by establishing its main entry points; improve the interaction with city of Asheville, and access to and from downtown Asheville.
- Promote economic sustainability by continuing efforts to spread costs over time.
- Develop the ability to move quickly for acquisition of property when strategically wise to do so.
- Improve the governance of campus facility planning so that decisions can be made consistent with the strategic plan rather than on an ad hoc basis.
- Anticipate change regarding the needs of the students of tomorrow, their academic and recreation needs, residence needs, technology needs, and establish flexibility measures to adapt to a changing world.
- There is strong need to enhance environmental sustainability through using local business suppliers and continuing to improve conservation in water, electricity consumption, and in maintaining biodiversity that reflects the natural vegetation of the area.
Board Feedback on Campus Master Plan Guiding Principles and issues to be addressed:
BOT Member – The Guiding Principles are sound. UNC Asheville is better known outside Buncombe County. The plan offers an opportunity to make changes that will create an emotional tie, a sense of place, and that connection (for those outside the UNC Asheville community) needs to be more than just athletics.
BOT Member – As the needs grew, the physical plant grew to meet those needs in an eclectic fashion. There was not much effort for a cohesive look, beyond the buildings on the Quad. Warren Wilson College grew in much the same way, very diverse, episodic architecture that reflects the era in which it was built. There are ways to tie things together that do not involve tearing down buildings and starting over – through signage, color palette, landscaping, etc. One way that people are tied together is through “gathering spaces.” We can look at what are the things that tie us together and what could we do to make it even more like home.
BOT Member – Students gather along the wall seating areas outside Karpen and Mills, on the Ramsey Library steps and other places. It would be great to have more of those kind of areas, e.g., at Highsmith and Sherrill Center. Students don’t focus on the architecture of building but the areas around the building. Aesthetic gathering areas can build community. Housing – we need more options like apartment-style housing, mixed gender, flexibility with meal plans. Students tend to go off campus for housing for amenities like apartment-style living with kitchens, pools, better pricing.
Rob Nelson – ‘Develop a sense of place’ seems to be a theme. More spaces for social interaction. Melissa Acker has developed a map of garden areas. One item to be considered is to create seating areas inside and out that can be design elements of the campus.
Chancellor Ponder commented on the effect of windows. When trustees took the tour of the Sherrill Center Conference Room, every trustee walked immediately to the big windows overlooking the track; no one paid attention to the tour leader for a few minutes. We need “view corridors” – ways to draw people to the mountains and the outside world even if they are inside.
BOT Member – Agreed that we need to have more open window spaces.
BOT Member – Liked the Sherrill Center’s use of mountain range theme throughout the design. It caught their attention everywhere. It reminded everyone that we are in the mountains, even when windows were not available.
BOT Member – Developing a permanent governance structure is a key part of the ability to carry out the plan going forward. The policy making board’s ability to translate the guiding principles into something concrete, a project of the working design group, will be a crucial part of the implementation of the plan.
WG Member - Many architects come to our campus to see what we're doing. Usually they talk about the Quad and how great it is. They like the materials used on buildings, the scale of buildings, the use of columns as a cohesive design element, the rhythm of the structures with each other and the natural environment, and the proportions. It could be a mistake to go in the opposite direction of the design structure we already have. If we can keep the coherence of building design and materials, the overall theme can be more successful. The visiting architects also comment that our pedestrian access is great.
BOT Member – Agrees that the most successful buildings are on the Quad and the Rhoades Hall renovation will enhance that aspect – tie in even better with Zeis and other buildings and provide more gathering spaces. Previous decisions made have created nice buildings. In Asheville, buildings are very diverse – there is no consistent Asheville style of architecture. So maybe we don't worry about differences in architectural style, just accept that as part of who we are.
BOT Member – In the campus initial plan, there was real effort to keep academic programs within the circle (University Heights) in a consistent style. For those outside the circle, many of which are dedicated to student facilities and other types of facilities, it is not necessary for them to be like the academic buildings. We need to identify a welcoming space for those coming on campus the first time and determine how visitors can get around more easily. Visitors get lost all the time. There’s no center, no front door and no way to figure out how to get out once you are on campus. Admissions, especially, needs a better “face” for the public access to prospective students and parents.
WG Member – We discussed the “Welcome” at great length (in working group meetings). It was at the top of our list – a way to welcome and greet visitors. We also discussed the budget realities that made this difficult to achieve in the near term.
BOT Member – Architects use the term “pattern language” to define architectural elements. Our use of stone could become one of our pattern language elements.
WG Member - Melissa Acker agrees that using local stone as a consistent element would be helpful and add to the overall look of the campus.
WG Member- The campus is blessed with having multiple access points - easy access from Interstate, access from Merrimon and Broadway, but not having “one way in and one way out” adds to the confusion. Which is the front door – the primary access point? Also, when discussing the current buildings, adding architectural elements might not necessarily help. Every building is a workhorse – used constantly and to full capacity. This leaves no place to move students when trying to do a major renovation. Some campuses have a dedicated building for flex space to use while up-fitting an existing building or to tear down a building for re-use of the ground. The nicest space is not any particular building; it is the space between buildings that makes the campus special. The right scale and materials are important, also how you place a structure in relation to others. The new renovation of Rhoades will be a good example of up-fitting an existing building and keeping the architectural them consistent with existing buildings. The new residence hall and the Governor’s Village renovations are also good examples of fitting buildings into existing spaces and renovating buildings that continue to be useful.
Rob Nelson – The working group meetings have discovered synergistic possibilities. Environmental sustainability can have positive impacts on the budget through conservation practices that reduce energy costs, water costs, etc. When reviewing deferred maintenance needs, campus operations can plan ahead to create ways to use more durable materials that are “greener” and better for the environment as well as better for cleanup and reduction in replacement costs, long term.
BOT Member – Preserving vistas is important; not putting up a tall building that takes away the views of the mountain.
BOT Member – This is the first part of process and it looks like 2017 is the end date of plan. That date seems not far enough into the future; that no substantial change can be made in that time period. Looks like we are prepared only for more small changes and not tackling a big issue to be resolved; there’s no 20-year look. If we have fewer dollars over the next 5-7 years, how creative can we be?
Rob Nelson –The plan focuses mostly on the next 5 years, but can be useful an additional 5-10 years out. What can we do in that time? No big new building except probably another residence hall. How do we do things that matter with smaller dollar expenditures? What small projects can create a big bang?
The thinking is that the university may not pay for a big firm to do a survey that looks at surrounding property in a big way for potential expansion but will focus on a capacity for campus improvements with current resources.
BOT Member – We can't anticipate what might become available in future, but if we have guidelines, we can approve changes more easily. Lot of things in the old plan have nothing to do with today's campus. So updating a plan that reflects the current campus and current thinking is already a step forward.
Rob Nelson – There’s lots of local expertise on this Board and in the community, so we can create a Campus Master Plan the UNC Asheville way – using in-house methods to inform ourselves, have lots of participation along the way to help make the best decisions. Do the initial leg-work which can be the most expensive part of a CMP.
When you are looking at the Guiding Principles, do you see the tools needed to make decisions? For example, if a new residence facility is needed in a few years, would these principles be a good way to help the Board and staff make that decision? Are they too general? What would you need to make a decision?
BOT Member – We would want to see several options, qualified options from staff, and cost would be a major factor.
Rob Nelson – Qualified options could include impact - if a facility is sited here, then you’d have this impact; if at another location, that impact. You would want to balance all the needs -- environmental, geothermal, vista, cost, convenience, suitability to purpose, etc.
BOT Member – We would need to have something to help us weigh the pros and cons of each option. No site has it all.
BOT Member – What impact would it have? Guiding principles and other decisions would need to be considered.
BOT Member – When we were looking for a location for the new residence facility, the Craft Campus, Rhoades property, etc., we didn't want to make decisions that were not systemic. We had no specific guidance on solving those issues - that's what we need in a new master plan. We need to make decisions not in a vacuum but knowing how a change will fit in the larger campus community.
BOT Member – We need to see the bigger picture and not get lost in details and not decide individual issues without knowing the overall picture. A few years ago the trustees took a tour of the whole campus and that was very helpful. Maybe it’s time to do that again?
Rob Nelson – The first step is for you to provide us your feedback on the guiding principles. If we start with those and then bring in folks that do master planning for a living to flesh it out – provide parameters and choices and possibilities -- we can get a better plan. Infrastructure and the impact of adding to that, improvements to existing facilities, cost and effectiveness – the guiding principles can help create systematic way of making decisions.
BOT Member – Were traffic, cars, parking discussed?
Rob Nelson – Yes, in great detail. Regarding parking, a cultural change will be difficult – to change from having a commuter campus feeling to a more cohesive campus-centric liberal arts atmosphere.
BOT Member – We need even more feedback from students in the parking discussion.
BOT Member – Students have talked about the student parking experience vs. the faculty parking experience. Students have provided ideas about what they feel is important.
Rob Nelson – Other infrastructure issues – Technology: The State and UNC-General Administration are helping us look at that; for assessment we have F-CAP – a facilities condition assessment program run by the NC Department of Administration that looks at immediate, medium and long-range needs of all state buildings. Renovation funds can help with technology needs for the future. We need to assess space use and function for needs. Keith Krumpe has done some of this, but we need more studies on how existing space is used. That could be part of the work of a professional to complete the Campus Master Plan.
BOT Member – How much will we spend to get a comprehensive campus master plan?
Rob Nelson – Don't know. You could contract for a complete plan or you could request that the plan be completed in phases. If you contract for a complete plan, even with the work we have done to date, it might cost $200,000 or more. It could cost less than this if more of the research and initial work is done by current campus staff.
Rob asked for feedback from each trustee on the guiding principles. The working committee has spent the last 6 months working on this and it would be good to wrap phase this up. Guiding principles - what is useful, what isn't on the right track?
BOT Member – The campus experience is more important, very key. Diversity and inclusion particularly beyond the usual definition of diversity is essential, might include non-traditional, off-campus students. Environmental sustainability is also key; we need to walk the walk. Social and economic sustainability - also important. Undergraduate research, not sure how that fits, maybe not as important to me.
BOT Member – If the plan covers a 5-year time frame, there is not the level of detail to help us with decisions, especially with larger projects. Should be more focused on programs – those decisions should drive brick and mortar consideration. Consideration for greater Asheville such as connectivity to downtown and the river are important. These are incredible assets we don't take advantage of.
BOT Member – No problem with the principles as written. How will you measure success?
Rob Nelson – That’s a good point, we will need to determine how to evaluate the plan’s success.
BOT Member – Campus experience is different depending on viewpoint - the public experience is different from the student experience from community from faculty, staff, etc. Which “public” are you looking at for impact of campus experience? Commuter students don't experience the campus the way on-campus students do. Zones, as identified in the last campus plan, go against what we really are and do. We need to think about their gathering spaces (non-resident students) and improve cross-cultural spaces for resident and non-resident students.
BOT Member – The principles and how they will work when we are looking at a structure to plan and design and site need to be carefully considered. How we connect with greater Asheville is more urgent - not long-term goal. There is a need now for a new structure to be the welcome center. Greenways and walkways and campus spaces for gathering are all good ideas and important.
BOT Member – The principles are fine. Connectivity within Asheville and Buncombe County is critical. We need to be more of a contributing member of the community, which is important for financial sustainability as well. We raise funds from the local community as well as alumni. Undergraduate research as a part of the principles is important because that's a distinguishing characteristic of this campus
BOT Member – This is a great piece of work. These are aspirational principles. How will we and the chancellor know we are adhering to the principles? Measuring success will be important. If we can use the principles to gain assistance when making decisions and to help us not drive a stake in the ground about concrete needs, they will be valuable.
BOT Member – I have some concerns regarding how the priorities interact and help in making decisions. It is not clear how economic sustainability would interact with campus experience, for example; there seem to be contradictions [competing benefits].
BOT Member – We need to “test drive” a concern to see how the principles work in helping make decisions. Like determining campus entrance and way-finding, traffic and parking, and reviewing these issues to decide as a group. If we can take one short-term need as an exercise to see if it works to use these principles to help us, that would be helpful. In general, the principles look fine and you have captured what people are saying about campus issues. How to measure and make it work is the next step.
Chancellor - we have put the right people on the committee and the process is working well. There are several things we know already, so we don't have to wait to start some projects and we can use some of the immediate needs to see how well the process and principles work. We will prepare a substantial discussion for the Board at a future meeting. We might look at more student housing, which we know we will need. What options, what types of housing, location, cost, could all be discussed. We can also discuss proximity to Asheville and how to improve access and connectivity. We will find some samples like these to test drive. Wayfinding – we can get expertise to help with that improvement, but a bigger issue might need Board discussion to determine how the principles work in practice.
Rob Nelson – So our next step will be to determine how the process works for planning. Then we can determine what services we want from a professional planning firm. We can work on this in the fall and then if the Board is willing to continue the process we could have a discussion in the spring about who to hire for completing the official plan. If a firm can start in early 2012, they could probably have a plan completed by late 2012.
BOT Member – If we approve the guiding principles, we will use that for test cases that you will present to us in September and we will want to have some measurements to help us determine effectiveness.
WG Member – Regarding metrics: not everything that counts can be counted and vice versa. Qualitative measures can also be helpful. It can be helpful to know how students live, how they move, how do they like what’s here, how well does it work. We will need even more student input. We need to watch students to see if they are more engaged, are disparate groups working together (if possible). And we also need to know how prospective students react.
BOT Member – I’m not sure I'm ready to say yes, this is it, these are the guiding principles we need to adopt. I don't want to stand in the way of progress but I still don't get it.
Rob Nelson – I’m hearing that the Board wants to preview the guiding principles in a real-world situation; to determine how to evaluate a project using the principles. You want to see observational data. We need to have some principles in place when we turn the final plan process over to an outsider. We need something that helps a professional planning know our sense of values and what's critical to us.
BOT Member – I didn't know that approving the guiding principles was an action item for today. I would have looked at the information differently if I knew.
Rob Nelson – We now have a good idea of your thinking of this. We will put together a “test drive” for you to discuss, using the guiding principles.