Greater than 150 people recently discovered that long-term campus planning is more than drawing the shape of a building on a site plan or figuring out where to put a parking lot.
By participating in a series of input sessions that will help guide the next few decades of development on campus, students, staff, faculty members and community representatives got the chance to learn how involved the process is, and how strongly people feel about the future of the campus landscape.
"The consulting team and I felt there was a real collaborative spirit of engagement among all the participants," says Spencer Court, the U of L's campus planner and architect.
"Our campus is something people feel strongly about, and these sessions pointed out the fact that each of us contributes in our own way – directly or indirectly – to improving student experiences."
Court says that participants as well as facilitators commented on the energy level in each session, which took place over three days in mid-September.
"People came away reporting to have had a very positive and engaging experience at the sessions. Students particularly expressed gratitude for being consulted," he says.
The campus planning design team is a collaborative arrangement between three separate firms. Moriyama + Teshima Architects and Planners lead the master planning effort and are supported by the Calgary architecture firm Gibbs Gage Architects and Educational Consulting Services Corp., which led the on-site workshops.
Coincidentally, Raymond Moriyama and eventual partner Ted Teshima, the men behind Moriyama + Teshima, grew up in Raymond and Taber respectively.
"Our team is led by the founder's son, Jason Moriyama, who remembers spending time in southern Alberta as a youth visiting his grandparents," says Court.
Developing a master plan for any institution is like holding up a mirror and assessing both successes and weaknesses.
"This process considered our legacy, our present circumstances and affirms the direction we take in the future," says Court. "A master plan is also a unifying framework that we would use to capitalize on our landscape setting and enhance our sense of place. That, in turn, enriches the student experience and creates a vibrant and talked-about destination."
Court says the process is expected to take about a year.
"The early stage we are in involves a lot of discovery, consultation and consensus building in connection with the various institutional mandates, such as the Strategic Plan and other planning documents. We are already three months into the formal process of interviews and research. The initial conceptual planning work is expected sometime in February 2012."
Open houses and presentations are also planned for 2012, in addition to less formal feedback mechanisms and an evolving website.
"With the help of the Students' Union, we will be connecting with students through more convenient public 'white board forums' in the next few weeks," says Court.
"At locations all across campus, questions from the planning sessions will be modified and put forward in engaging ways so that students, and people who might not have had the opportunity to attend the sessions in September, can comment. A campus master plan website is also being developed to document the master plan process. That site will also have a mechanism for feedback."
Discussion was lively
Do members of the U of L community have opinions about what future development on campus looks like? They certainly do. Following are a few highlights from the recent Campus Master Planning discussions.
• There is a significant need for social spaces of various types that are configurable, scaled to purpose and less formal. These spaces could punctuate campus and be appropriated by student, faculty and staff to facilitate learning and contribute to a gathering place at the University. The plan will recognize this area as one that supports a better student experience and improves education delivery out of the classroom or lab.
• In focusing on research and graduate programs, the institution should not lose sight of its roots in liberal education, and should carry out designs that further enrich this academic experience for students. Doing so maintains our institution as truly comprehensive.
• University Hall is an icon in a truly unique landscape setting that should be celebrated, enhanced and leveraged. Appropriately identified programming that continues to serve a liberal education model of undergraduate study should be conceptualized in an effort to re-envision the embodied potential within University Hall.
• The campus community is not mixing as well as we did in one large building. Safe pedestrian movement is currently not carried through, as students, faculty and staff often compete with automobiles in a vast area of parking.
• There is no intuitive, well-planned welcoming front entrance, only a ceremonial one that is disconnected from the adjacent city landscape.
• Students value the opportunity to be consulted. Leeanne Mundle was the lucky winner of an iPad2, offered as a random draw prize to encourage student participation.