The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith on Wednesday (Oct. 9) unveiled its master plan for the next 20 years, detailing a vision that UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran called an "evolving" document that would guide the future growth and develop of the school.
"Actually, we are in an evolutionary process," Beran said. "So even though what you see up here may be one way, it could evolve into something different down the road, depending on what our needs are as those needs change and evolve."
The master plan was last updated when the university was WestArk College.
As for how much it could cost the university to see all the proposed changes, Beran said there was no price tag, adding that a "shooting from the hip" estimate could place the price tag at around $200 million "in today's dollars."
"Now in 20 years, it could be $300 million," he said.
To fund the projects, bonds would likely be issued as projects being paid off free up monies for more construction, Beran said, adding that there is not a plan at this point to launch a capitol fundraising campaign.
The biggest component of the master plan dealt with the rapid growth the campus has experienced since becoming a part of the University of Arkansas system on Jan. 1, 2002.
Following a year of informational meetings and gathering input from students, faculty, staff and the Fort Smith community, consultants with the consulting firm Smithgroup JJR developed a plan that would allow the university to meet its needs for space as the student body is expected to grow to 9,000 students by 2033.
Among the most noticeable changes on campus will be the demolition of four buildings - Gardner, Ballman-Spear and Holt Halls along with Breedlove Auditorium. All the buildings are along Grand Avenue and according to Smithgroup JJR Planner Jon Hoffman, the buildings were no longer serving in the university's best interest.
"It's those buildings that we've heard from the very beginning, particularly lots of ones along Grand Avenue, that come from a previous incarnation of the university where they really worked well for technical education decades ago but they are not meeting the modern educational needs of this university," he said. "And they are not providing the best image for those that are along Grand Avenue."
In their place, newer modern structures adapted for education in the 21st century are proposed to be constructed.
BELL TOWER FOCUS
As part of any new construction, the master plan envisions green space that currently surrounds the campus' bell tower being the university's focal point. But in order to do that, Smithgroup JJR's Neal Kessler, a campus planner, said it was necessary to spread much of the learning that takes place on campus away from the northwest ends of campus and spread it around the campus but still surrounding the bell tower to create what encounters among members of the university community in the green space.
The only building that faces the campus green is the Baldor building on Kinkead Avenue, but he said construction of a new dorm modeled after The Lion's Den, to be located where the school's gym facility is located, along with construction of the new $15 million fine arts center at Waldron and Kinkead will bring more campus buildings to the campus green.
Part of making the campus more vibrant includes making it completely pedestrian friendly. One way the master plan envisions doing that is by eventually closing Kinkead to through traffic and turning it into a pedestrian mall.
"Really, on a day to day basis, it would be great if that were closed and this became a completely pedestrian campus," Kessler said. "And it really becomes almost an idealized diagram of a campus – a pedestrian core with parking around the outside feeding into the center. And then we have very few pedestrian-vehicle conflicts on campus. A very safe campus environment."
MASTER PLAN PROPOSALS
Other proposals in the newly-unveiled master plan include:
• An expanded Stubblefield Center, with an auxiliary gym and offices;
• Three new academic buildings centered around the campus green;
• A greek village and a campus ministry village, both located south of the center of campus;
• Replacing the gym with a student recreational facility along Kinkead;
• The construction of an alumni center on the northwest corner of Grand Avenue and Waldron Road, along with new brick signage signifying the start of the campus;
• Construct either a new soccer stadium or softball fields east of campus;
• A new plaza at the current drop-off area on Kinkead across from the Baldor building in addition to a newly-constructed drop off area along Grand Avenue, allowing a fully-open view of the bell tower from north of campus for the first time; and
• Expanding the dining center at The Lion's Den along with expansions at the Smith-Pendergraft University Center, including moving the campus bookstore to the west end of the building.
To make all of the proposals eventually become a reality, Beran said it would take continued buy-in from the university community.
"I think that the key to it is you grassroots buy-in and that you keep talking about it and you keep it out in front of people so they own it," he said. "And also you have to understand, I think everybody on campus understands, the flexibility inherent here."
Beran said it meant understanding that as the university's needs change, the master plan was designed to grow and respond to those changes, not locking the university in.
Link here for more information on the university's updated master plan.