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Growing in new directions: $100 million master plan calls for substantial campus expansion

Growing in new directions: $100 million master plan calls for substantial campus expansion

By Paula Price Tanner

After two years of benchmarking, brainstorming, forecasting, analyzing, and praying, the trustees approved a new campus master plan on Feb. 18, 2011. The result is a plan that has brought nothing short of a “WOW!” from students, faculty, staff, and citizens of the surrounding community. With $100 million in new construction proposed for the next three to seven years, the plan is a bold step forward for the university—one which is calculated to move the school closer to the vision of being the university of choice for Christian higher education in the Southwest.

With the strong support of all who care about Mary Hardin-Baylor, I’m confident we can execute this plan

WHAT IS NEEDED?

Work on a new campus master plan began in 2008, when the university hired a campus planning team from Performa Higher Education to help devise a plan for facility additions and improvements. The consultants worked with campus administrators to gather data on the size, condition, and use of each building on campus as well as information about enrollment trends and areas of perceived need. When Dr. Randy O’Rear, then executive vice president, was asked to lead the campus community in articulating a vision for UMHB’s future, he asked the campus planning team to put their efforts on hold until the “visioning” process could be completed. When consensus was reached and trustees approved a stated vision and imperatives for future growth in May 2010, the campus planning process was resumed.

Administrators worked collaboratively with trustees, faculty, staff, and students to identify the projects most needed for the university to move forward in its academic programs and campus life. After many weeks of discussion and analysis, a cluster of priority projects emerged:

Student Housing: One of the university’s imperatives for future growth is to foster a robust residential campus community. To do this, on-campus housing must be provided for a majority of full-time students. As enrollment has steadily increased in recent years, this goal has become a moving target. The university constructed and opened the 142-bed Garner Hall in 2010, but there were still more requests for campus housing than could be filled, and a record-breaking enrollment last fall convinced university administrators that this portion of the master plan needed to move to fast-track status. As a result, another apartment complex that will house 163 students is now under construction on University Drive; the complex is scheduled to be complete by fall 2011.

College of Nursing Building: Another area where demand currently exceeds available space is in the university’s Scott & White College of Nursing. In recent years, the university has had to limit the number of students entering the program to about 70 per semester, simply because classrooms and clinical laboratories could not hold more nursing students. The university has had to turn away qualified students because of a lack of classroom space at the same time that the need for more nurses has become critical. Administrators recognize that the College of Nursing could help meet the need for more nurses if expanded and updated classrooms and labs were available, so this building has become a top priority for campus growth.

Visual Arts Center: For many years the art department has been housed in the basement of Presser Hall, in crowded rooms which offer little natural light. Moving the art program into better facilities has been a priority of the College of Visual and Performing Arts for some time; the creation of a center for visual arts will give the art department quality instructional spaces, faculty offices and studios, and a gallery to display works by students, faculty, and visiting artists. It also will also ease crowded conditions in Presser Hall for the Department of Music.

Performing Arts Center: Currently the campus offers only two venues for musical or theatrical productions: Hughes Recital Hall, which seats up to 200, or Walton Chapel, which seats more than 1,000. Neither location has a proscenium stage or fly space for scenery. In recent years, the university’s top-notch opera and musical theater productions have had to be staged in an off-campus venue, an arrangement which places serious limitations on the number of days the stage is available to students for rehearsals and building scenery. The creation of a performing arts center will give the university a theater with mid-range seating (500 to 600 seats) and will provide an appropriate venue for excellent productions which can be enjoyed by students as well as people from the surrounding communities.

Student Union Building: In recent years, the dining facilities in Hardy Hall have not been able to meet the needs of a growing student body. A new student union building will solve this problem by offering expanded and updated residential dining, plus appealing retail dining for faculty, staff, and students who are not enrolled in the meal plan. The student union will also be designed to encourage involvement in campus activities by providing recreation/gathering spaces for students and prominent areas for student organizations.

Football Stadium: The football program initiated in 1998 has proved to be extraordinarily successful in establishing a winning tradition and generating school spirit among the students. Through a cooperative agreement with Belton ISD, UMHB has been able to play its home games at Belton High School’s Tiger Field. However, long-range plans call for Belton to build a second high school in the near future, with both schools using Tiger Field for athletic events—a situation which will make it more difficult to accommodate UMHB’s playing schedule. Administrators believe that building a stadium on the UMHB campus will not only draw more student spectators but will also bring more visitors onto the campus on game days. And by positioning the stadium in tandem with the student union building, planners say that the result will be a distinctive activity center which will be unmatched at any other Division III university.

Band Hall: Formed in 1998, the university band is a relatively new addition to UMHB’s music program. The only room in Presser Hall large enough to accommodate band practices is a room originally designed for art classes on the fourth floor. Acoustics in the room are poor, and the only way students can move large instruments out for performances is to load them into the building’s small service elevator, then lift them up or down stairs to exit the building.

Andersen Field House Expansion: UMHB’s field house was constructed in 1998 to meet the needs of 100 players and their coaching staff; however, the football team has included an average of 175 student athletes each year for the past 13 years. An addition is needed to provide sufficient locker rooms, meeting rooms, fitness facilities, and storage and laundry facilities.

Perimeter Parking: To improve aesthetics and pedestrian safety, King Street and Moore Avenue need to be converted to pedestrian walkways. By relocating Facility Services to property west of Texas Loop 121 and moving Crusader Way closer to the railroad tracks, parking lots can be added along the inside of Crusader Way to replace parking eliminated by new construction at the center of the campus.

ALL ABOUT LOCATION

Once planners had identified what needed to be added to the campus, the question arose of where those buildings should be located. The planning team looked at existing buildings, pedestrian traffic patterns, and adjacent properties owned by the university. When current buildings were analyzed according to their use, some clear zones emerged.

Buildings which contain classrooms and faculty offices are mostly located on the south end of the campus along Ninth Avenue, from the Meyer Christian Studies Center and the Parker Academic Center at Pearl Street back to Presser Hall on King Street. When clustered together, these facilities form an academic zone.

The campus quadrangle along Moore Street is ringed by dormitories, which house a primarily freshman population. This area was dubbed the first-year experience zone.

The freshman housing on the quadrangle is one of four residential zones. A second major residential area is at the north end of campus, where the Independence Village apartment complexes stand. The newest residential zone is on the west side of University Drive, where a new multi-story apartment complex is being built this year, overlooking Nolan Creek. The fourth residential zone will emerge at the west end of University Drive, when a longstanding contract with the builders of College View Apartments will result in that apartment complex becoming part of the campus in the year 2014.

With these zones identified, planners tackled the most difficult question: where should the student union building be built? A study of growth patterns and the way that buildings are currently zoned made it clear that the center of the campus is gradually shifting to the west, away from the Luther Memorial on Vann Circle and toward the area around the Mayborn Campus Center. To place the student union building with its residential dining facilities at the crossroads between the four residential zones, planners found that the best location for the student union would be south of the Mayborn Center, where outdoor recreational courts and the parking lot for Presser Hall currently stand.

By pairing the new student union building with a football stadium, planners saw that an exciting new student activity zone could be created: the dining and activity areas of the student union and stadium could complement facilities which already get a great deal of student traffic—the Mayborn Campus Center arena and fitness areas, and the intramural fields to the north, where students gather to play every afternoon and evening of the week. Planners saw that placing a new band hall in this area as well would provide easy access for students’ transporting instruments and would keep the practice hall in close proximity to Presser Hall.

The identified zones made the location of the three new academic buildings a relatively easy task. With current academic buildings clustered along Ninth Avenue, the logical step would be to erect new academic buildings nearby. The master plan therefore calls for the new nursing building to be constructed on the south side of Ninth Avenue, across the street from York Science Center and Townsend Library. The new visual arts center will be built on the same side of the street but to the west, keeping it in close proximity to Presser Hall, which houses the other programs in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Planners also will locate the new performance hall on Ninth Avenue, but it will be several blocks to the east, at the front edge of the campus, to accommodate traffic drawn to performances from the surrounding community.

FILLING IN THE GAPS

The campus master plan is not just about new buildings; the plan also calls for the renovation of older structures to create learning environments geared for student success. As new facilities are completed and occupied, older buildings will become available for renovation and repurposing. When the new student union building becomes the center for campus dining and student life activities, the Mabee Student Center and Hardy Hall will be freed up for use in other ways. Planners envision the Mabee Center being converted into a student success center housing tutoring services, career services, counseling, testing, and health services, and other core student service programs. Hardy may serve as short-term relocation space for programs displaced during construction; eventually, Hardy’s location in the first-year experience zone may call for it to be repurposed as a residential facility or an academic building.

When the nursing program moves into its new facility, the space currently occupied in Wells Nursing and Science Hall can be converted for use by other programs. The plan also recommends a remodeling of Townsend Library, with the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching moved to a more prominent location.

The plan calls for the new performing arts center to be complemented by renovations to Walton Chapel, to make it acoustically suited for choral and instrumental concerts. Presser Hall is also in line for a facelift, with special attention to updating seating and surfaces in Hughes Recital Hall.

MAKING IT HAPPEN

What makes the new campus master plan an unusual one for UMHB is the plan’s ambitious time frame of three to seven years. In the past, the university has added major facilities one at a time, taking several years to raise money for the facility, design it, and then construct it. The new plan could be achieved in the same way, but trustees and administrators have set a goal of accelerating the pace by tackling several of the projects simultaneously.

“We’re serious about accomplishing our vision of being the university of choice for Christian higher education in the Southwest,” said President Randy O’Rear. “We cannot achieve that vision without a physical campus which offers the facilities our students need. If we try to make these improvements one project at a time, it could take 10 to 15 years to accomplish what we believe we can do in a very short amount of time. We have a visionary Board of Trustees that believes the time is right to make a significant investment in campus facilities as we plan for our bright future.”

To make this possible, administrators have assembled several teams of faculty and staff to work with architects on the features needed for each facility. These planning committees have logged many hours interviewing and selecting architectural firms and touring outstanding facilities at other universities to gather ideas about state-of-the-art features that could be incorporated back home. By March 15, architects had been selected for the nursing building, the field house expansion, and the stadium, with interviews proceeding to select firms for the other facilities.

“Some of these projects are well under way, but others are just getting started,” said Edd Martin, Vice President for Campus Planning and Support Services. “We hope to have construction documents completed for the visual arts center this year and to complete the plans for the nursing building, the student union, and the stadium in early 2012.”

Technically, the first project of the campus master plan to be built is the new residential complex, which was already under construction when the plan was approved in February; administrators broke ground on the project last fall because the need for additional housing was so great.

From this point on, the order in which the projects take shape will depend on the completion of construction documents and the decisions of donors to support the various projects.

The Board of Trustees agreed that the campus master plan should be funded through a combination of gifts and grants, debt, funds already set aside for campus improvements, and future designations of year-end surplus funds. Donor support is a critical part of the formula, said O’Rear.

“The high hopes and dreams we have for the future of the university will come about when our alumni and friends invest in our vision,” O’Rear said. “Fundraising is a significant part of the $100 million investment in campus facilities. With the strong support of all who care about Mary Hardin-Baylor, I’m confident we can execute this plan.”