Mountaineer Magic: Is A Big University “Makeover” In The Works?

Mountaineer Magic: Is A Big University “Makeover” In The Works?
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An unidentified architect points out features of the proposed gateway.

By David Rogers. October 24, 2016. BOONE, NC — Needed, absolutely. Expensive, maybe. Doable, probably.  Appalachian State University is headed for a “makeover” with both functional as well as aesthetic improvements.

Now the sixth largest institution in the University of North Carolina system with more than 16,000 undergraduate and roughly 1,600 graduate students, Appalachian State was founded in 1899 — almost 120 years ago — and at least a few of the buildings housing the university’s academic programs are showing their age.  Moreover, the university has grown in size and scope without benefit of a larger overall plan taking into account aesthetics, functionality, and even core values now embraced by the university, such as sustainability.

Building new or renovating existing academic facilities, improving parking, and enhancing the connectivity of the different parts of campus were common themes on Thursday and Friday as faculty, staff, students and administrators got a look at architects’ ideas and provided feedback for what Appalachian State University’s Master Plan 2025 might look like if adopted.

Chancellor Sheri Everts was in the crowd at Plemmons Student Union, listening intently to the architects’ ideas crafted with the inputs of the Master Planning Committee headed by Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff Randy Edwards and Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Darrell Kruger. 

One of the lynch pins of any demolition, renovation or new construction plans seems to be the timing for completion of the new Beaver College of Health Sciences.  The new Beaver College building near Watauga Medical Center will free up classroom and office space in older buildings currently housing Health Sciences on campus, which can then be used for “bridge” or transition facilities as other structures are demolished, built and renovated per a schedule yet to be determined.

A look at updating the university’s master plan came at the behest of Chancellor Sheri Everts and the University Board of Trustees, according to Everts, as a necessary process for addressing current challenges and responding to opportunities.

Interviewed after Friday’s presentation, Everts reminded Blowing Rock News that the most recent version of the Master Plan (2020) adopted in 2010 is getting a bit dated and that the university’s follow-up with the plan has been less than adequate.

“For instance,” Everts observed, “the 2010 plan called for five new parking structures in Years 0-4 and none of them have been built. Does that address the university parking problem?” she asked, rhetorically.

Ideas for Rivers St. to make it a “complete street.”

In reviewing the plan adopted in 2010, Blowing Rock News confirmed that the document included a recommendation for 1,820 parking spaces to be added in five new lots, including a Holmes Center Parking Garage (400 spaces), a Legends Parking Garage (400 spaces), and three decks on or near property that was formerly the Broyhill Inn (340 spaces each). None of those have been built, whether because of budget constraints or project prioritization.

Everts summarized the priorities she sees in the updated planning document as [1] Academic Facilities, [2] Parking, and [3] Connectivity.

A prospective Arts cooridor and what to do with the Peacock parking lot — a section of campus that at least some regard as an eyesore — received plenty of discussion.

One of the interesting aspects of the architects’ “makeover” suggestions included their observed need for extensive campus demolitions and renovations of existing structures. Among the buildings the plan document would schedule for demolition includes East Residence Hall, Legends, IG Greer Hall, Estes House, Duncan Hall, Dougherty Hall, and the Broyhill Events Center.

Buildings they the plan identifies as “Complete Renewal Required” includes Varsity Gym, Harper Hall, Sanford Hall, Justice Hall, Coltrane Hall, Eggers Hall, Shook Student Health Services, and the Lucy Brock Child Development Center.

Structures identified as “Major Renovation Backlog” included Broyhill Music Center, Schaefer Center, Wey Hall, Bowie Hall, Owens Field House, Gardner Hall, Walker Hall, and the McKinney Alumni Center.

Focus areas for the master plan exercise this time around were:

  • Creating a main campus gateway.  The architects seemed to prefer a remake of an entrance off of Hardin St., including a park-like loop that introduced visitors to Sanford Mall as a central campus feature. Upon receiving feedback, they acknowledged the importance of the Rivers St. intersection with Hardin St.
  • Creating an arts and entertainment promenade. It would provide connectivity between the Turchin Arts Center on King St. and the Hayes School of Music and the Schaefer Center on what they described as the “West” campus. This would include repurposing much of the property now used for parking in front of Peacock Hall and the tranit hub into more greenspace and adding a wrapped, multi-story parking deck. It also provides for at least one outdoor performance venue and different provisions for better circulating traffic.
  • River Walk and Rivers Street.
    Broyhill Inn could be turned into an Innovation campus.

    Open up Boone Creek and creating a “daylit” creek and River Walk, with sustainable art. Also included in the Rivers scheme would be enhancements to the transit hub, improvements to pedestrian walkways and crossings, and transforming Rivers St. into a “complete street” to improve the circulation of traffic that might include roundabouts at Water St. and Hardin St., continuous bike lanes to the Greenway, and on-grade pedestrian crossings.

  • Stadium Lot. Discussion centered on what was being done at other universities to enhance not only the student life experience, but also the fan experience in attending football and other athletic events, including tailgating. One suggestion was to replace a substantial amount of the current surface parking with a multi-level parking deck that might even evolve as a multi-use structure, i.e. parking plus retail or food and beverage.
  • Innovation campus. Proposed for the current site of the former Broyhill Inn at the top of Bodenheimer Drive, what the architects described as the Innovation campus would create a balance between research/academic facilities and needed new athletic facilities. One scheme presented showed a softball field and tennis courts at the northern end of the property, anchored by the current baseball field on the southern end. Academic facilities would be in the center, with all of it connected by a pedestrian promenade.  Another scheme favored a full track & field venue on the northern end, with a new softball stadium backing up to the existing baseball field witht he entire complex of research/academic and athletic facilities connected by a wide pedestrian walkway. After receiving feedback on Thursday’s charrette (a meeting where all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map out solutions), the architects seemed to favor a larger research lab building anchoring the northern end, a roundabout at the gateway entrance to the Innovation Campus, a 4-level parking deck providing 640 spaces, a high bay building (with sky bridge to the parking deck), a new softball field backing up to the baseball field and both of them implementing geothermal, with a promenade connecting it all.
  • Legends.
    Major renovations or new construction are possible.

    This discussion went well beyond tearing down the existing Legends building and replacing it with a new one, but even suggested purchasing property between the existing university and Daniel Boone Inn to add academic conference facilities and university supported retail, housing, hotel and parking deck facilities along with improvements along Hardin Street.

As of this writing, it is not clear as to what happens next. Presumably an interim group or groups will do some work to tie together all of the feedback from the charrettes and the recommendations of the architects and planning professionals for a formal presentation and recommendation for adoption by the Appalachian State University Board of Trustees, possibly as early as their December meeting.

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