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Friday, July 3, 2009

The "new" UAH master plan

Like politics, when a university gets a new administration, priorities change-- new ideas are introduced, and old ones are thrown out. This has certainly been the case for UAH since Dr. David ("Dave") Williams took the job as president of the university two years ago. Many of the changes he and his administration have implemented have been quite unpopular with students and faculty, especially since they have been kept "out of the loop" for the most part on these changes. But it looks like the new administration might be doing something right. Finally.

The new UAH master plan, which will replace the current one created in 2004, has an underlying goal: to make UAH a "traditional" campus. One of the major (and most interesting) focus points of the new plan is a "campus town center" along Holmes Avenue. Ideas for the new town center include live music/performance venues, art galleries, restaurants, a bookstore, grocery store, movie theater, and student apartments. A full list of ideas can be seen here. The town center, if successful, will give students, faculty, and visitors something that Huntsville currently lacks-- the "college town feel" of places like Auburn and Tuscaloosa. Plus, the greater accessibility to services and entertainment will make the surrounding neighborhoods more appealing to those who want to live in the city-- many of whom would be 20-something recent college graduates, a demographic Huntsville desperately needs, but lacks partly due to the scarceness of attractive urban living options.

Pedestrians and bikes
I probably don't need to remind you that Huntsville is not a bike- or pedestrian-friendly city. The area surrounding UAH is somewhat better, but not by much. One area of concern is trying to cross Holmes to get to the other side of campus. The university is trying to change that with a new pedestrian mall (under construction; the big red block in the middle of the picture above) that will go right through the middle of campus and cross Holmes in front of the Salmon Library. One thing I don't get about this plan is the random configuration of paths in the northern part of campus, especially the oval in the top left (between Roberts and Spragins halls).

Also, the creation of a campus transit system (Charger Transit?) is mentioned repeatedly in the plan, but will probably happen in the long-term. Hopefully by that time, there will be a reliable, efficient regional transit system to make it truly effective.

A denser campus

One of the consequences of UAH being a commuter campus is that the building are so spread out, you have to drive quite a bit. Try getting from Morton Hall to Tech Hall in 15 minutes on foot; you'd be stretching it on a bike. The plan calls for more buildings in the campus core, while creating a "greenbelt" of open spaces surrounding campus. And Tech Hall, isolated from the rest of campus (located at the bottom right of the above maps) will be no more, and the departments currently housed there will move elsewhere, probably in one of the proposed academic buildings that will surround the Shelby Center. One major note on the building plan is the sheer number of dormitories planned-- I counted at least 12, not including the one currently under construction. Also, notice that Southeast Housing (the oldest dorms/apartments on campus) is absent from the master plan. I wouldn't be surprised if they were torn down in the near future, especially after the new dorms are completed across the street in 2011.

The final draft of the master plan is due this fall.


Anonymous said...

It's good to see UAH trying to improve its campus life. I graduated from UAH in 2003. My biggest complaint the whole time I went there was that it just didn't feel like a college experience. The lack of an emotional attachment to the school make people less willing to commit financially to the school post graduation, in which case UAH loses out on a lot of potential donations.

Craig said...

I agree completely with the first comment. The original design of the campus was terrible. The buildings are too far apart and require driving between classes. And the student center should be located as the hub of all the campus buildings.

Suggestions for the new master plan:
build a new tech hall on the main campus ( east of Sparkman ).
And add a tunnel under Sparkman at Technology Drive ( like the one at John Hunt park ). That intersection is too busy and too dangerous for students to cross on foot or bicycle.

James said...

@Craig: From the last paragraph:

"And Tech Hall, isolated from the rest of campus (located at the bottom right of the above maps) will be no more, and the departments currently housed there will move elsewhere, probably in one of the proposed academic buildings that will surround the Shelby Center."

I agree that the crosswalk across Sparkman at Technology is busy right now, but there won't be a need for major improvements (such as a tunnel) if Tech Hall-- and adjacent Shelbie King Hall-- are moved to the "core" of campus, which seems to be in the 5-year plan.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe it has taken them so long to get something like this 'campus town center' going. That whole neighborhood east of UAH and west of Jordan would be a great spot for a full blown entertainment district.

Cody said...

I think this will be a step in the right direction for UAH. I would love to see something similar to Providence spring up at the "town center" at Holmes/Ben Graves.

It is going to be a tough transition for those that wish to drive to campus, however. Parking will be difficult to come by, and people will also have to park farther away from their destinations than before. More people will be on campus since freshman outside of a 25 mile radius of UAH will be required to live on campus.

I am eager to see what the concepts will look like. This could trigger higher-density development focused along Holmes Avenue between UAH and Jordan Lane.