By Errol Castens
OXFORD – Planning construction, renovation and other physical changes for the University of Mississippi campus is an exercise in hitting moving targets.
More students create a need for more housing, academic, administrative and service space. New buildings and features take up former parking, the loss of which creates a need for more perimeter parking and transit. The constant aging of infrastructure, ongoing technological changes and even emerging expectations such as sustainability add to the complexity.
Enter the campus master plan, a flexible guide for meeting growing and changing needs on the campus while keeping it recognizably Ole Miss.
“This document is a roadmap for the next 20 or 30 years to keep us from making mistakes that can’t easily be undone,” said University Architect Ian Banner. “We have to understand our architectural legacy. … Changing that is not up for discussion.”
Some of the master plan is conceptual, such as keeping most academic functions within a “ring road” of Grove Loop, Sorority Row, Northgate Drive, Rebel Drive, Fraternity Row and All-American Drive.
“Ultimately, this would become a pedestrian core,” Banner said.
Some of the plan is more immediate, like adding a series of student residences over the next several years. A 304-bed building is under construction near the Northgate entrance, aimed for completion in August 2015. A roughly 800-bed facility will replace Guess Hall by August 2016, with others to be built later in a westward progression up Rebel Drive.
With record-setting enrollments several years running, other construction projects that are in progress or in planning include the basketball/assembly arena and five-level parking garage by Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the nearly complete renovation of Lamar Hall (Old Law School), additions to Coulter Hall and the Thad Cochran National Center for Natural Products and a planned STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) building next to Cochran. One long-term dream is a replication of the Lyceum Circle’s concept, where academic buildings look out upon a sylvan area. When the new basketball arena goes online in early 2016, Tad Smith Coliseum’s removal will leave a second spacious circle on the campus that would first be landscaped and eventually wooded.
“We’d like to build something there that, 50 years from now, somebody can put on a postcard,” Banner said. “I see it as a great place for people to look out onto.”
Parking is an ongoing concern in Ole Miss’ master plan.
“From a university master-planning point of view, our responsibility is to have the campus grow in a way that respects and maintains the Ole Miss spirit,” Banner said. “One way not to do that would be to take out all the beautiful central spaces on campus and park cars there. So, our growth is going to come with a slightly changed way of doing things – parking our cars out on the periphery of campus and then coming in on mass transportation to be dropped off where we’ve got to go. At the same time we’re designing buildings, we’re designing transportation and people movement.”
One project along that line is the proposed development of the former Whirlpool factory, which offers some 500,000 square feet of interior space and several acres of paved parking.
“We’ll soon start design on that as a recreation and transportation hub,” Banner said. “We see a pretty wonderful opportunity for people to drive out there in the morning, work out, get the bus and go to work or school, go back in the afternoon, work out if you didn’t in the morning, get in the car and go home. It’s almost like a destination parking place.”
The project has a $20 million budget, Banner said, but with a design firm yet to be chosen, it is at least two years from reality.
Construction will mean progressively less on-campus parking, shifting commuter traffic to Whirlpool, the Jackson Avenue Center, the South Lot and possibly other sites.
“Our growth is going to come with a slightly changed way of doing things – parking our cars out on the periphery of campus and then coming in on mass transportation to be dropped off where we’ve got to go,” Banner said.
The five-level parking garage, however, will add more than 800 premium (paid) spaces near the heart of the campus.
“Everyone’s working on it as fast and safely as they can,” he said. “Mid-autumn is where its opening is right now.”