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Faculty question UND planning process

Campus facilities plans are coming together at UND, but some faculty are questioning the process and asking if more could have been done to seek their input.

Campus facilities plans are coming together at UND, but some faculty are questioning the process and asking if more could have been done to seek their input.

"It's not a monumental task to contact faculty," Gary Towne, a professor of music, said after a Thursday forum led by representatives of Sasaki, a planning and design agency hired to help reimagine the campus. "The faculty are the longest-lived members of the university, we're the ones who know it best."

The team from Sasaki has been working through UND's master plan-a document that, in its totality, will look some 30 years down the road-since last summer, gathering data on their own through surveys and focus groups while taking into account previously completed studies. Though Tyler Patrick, a Sasaki planner, said Thursday that nothing is yet final, he added the group is looking to move on from "broad-scale options" to proceed on a more unified track.

Patrick later defended to a professor emeritus of kinesiology the process by which designers gathered input from faculty leadership. He pointed to a survey sent out by Sasaki to garner campus feedback, as well as project communications made through the university's blog and local media. He also said Sasaki also posted plans online for additional response but, ultimately, "there was not a single comment received."

"If there were comments, people are free to submit them, but we have gotten extensive stakeholder engagement," Patrick said.

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At any rate, the broad strokes of the plan are now focusing largely on building up connectivity between the different parts of campus. Sasaki planner Mary Anne Ocampo touched on that concept often when discussing the general vision of the team's approach, which hones in on finding ways to make the campus feel more compact for students and employees.

Part of that could come from literal means of connection, such as revamped pedestrian byways and buildings that flow together with tunnels or bridges. Another comes with a continued reduction of the campus facilities footprint, thinning out buildings deemed inefficient or low-use to focus resources elsewhere.

The university already began reducing its facilities footprint over the past summer, when it started the demolition of a number of buildings already on offline status. By the time the crystallizing master plan runs its course, Patrick said, the campus could see the overall reduction of approximately 700,000 square feet of space.

The Chester Fritz Auditorium could be part of that total. That center, the Sasaki designers imagine, could someday be eliminated and replaced with a smaller recital hall. The campus reduction also could take Columbia Hall, the former home of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The broader plan as currently written features other major shifts. If fundraising and state appropriation dollars materialize as hoped, UND will be making large-scale changes to core facilities. Among the projects placed high on the campus wishlist is the renovation of Merrifield Hall and the total overhauls of the Chester Fritz Library and Memorial Union, both in the central core area of campus along University Avenue. That area alsop could see the relocation of the UND College of Business and Public Administration, a process that would likely phase out the college's current home in Gamble Hall while taking over part or all of the neighboring Montgomery Hall. And Hyslop, long a feature of campus, could be converted to a STEM building-short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics-that focuses on shared lab space for different campus disciplines.

The changes won't happen overnight, though. UND facilities chief Mike Pieper said the first serious movement could be in Merrifield Hall sometime around 2020.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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