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WNMU Master Plan seeks public input 031914, part 1

A Western New Mexico University Master Plan community meeting, on Wednesday, March 19, sought public input from the more than 50 people who attended.

WNMU President Joseph Shepard led off the session by saying: "The university is more than 120 years old and is constantly changing. We have never had a master plan for the facility."

He said he knew that light and noise impact the university's neighbors, so he was seeking input from them as the plan continues to be developed.

 

"If we raise enrollment to 5,000 students, we will have to build more residence halls," Shepard said. "Where does the sewage go? Where does the traffic go? We want to have a plan of action in place."

He noted that in New Mexico, institutions of higher learning are not statutorily required to hold public hearings, but he thought it was a good thing to do. The town of Silver City is working on repaving College Avenue, which will have an impact on the university and its neighbors. "We are talking with the city on changes that might be made."

Jason Clark of Studio D Architects in Las Cruces gave the updates and led the discussion.

"Much of what I will present was generated from faculty, staff and students," Clark said.

"All of us have a vested interest in the result," Shepard said. "Presidents come and go, but the communities that embrace the universities remain. My pledge is to bridge that gap."

Clark said the conceptual plans would be discussed with the Board of Regents on Friday.

"We are doing land planning, determining future needs, and addressing landscaping, transportation, utilities and drainage," Clark said. "We have been meeting with user groups, including the Campus Planning Council, the Faculty/Deans Council. staff, students and residential life proponents. Many of the groups had the same concerns."

He showed slides of the major concerns of the various groups. The Campus Planning Council was concerned about campus accessibility, the aging infrastructure, life and safety, a new police station and campus lighting.

The Deans Council suggested bringing the colleges back together under one roof, a better organization of classrooms, groups that are growing quickly, improving classroom utilization, and a virtual computer lab, where students could bring their own computers and plug in.

Faculty and staff were concerned about lighting at night, so everyone feels safe.

The students were developing a pathways project and outdoor teaching opportunities, as well as accessibility and how to organize housing.

The plan is to determine how to spend money in the right place at the right time on facilities. Athletics has aging facilities and a small footprint. The Child Development Center needs to create safe places for parents to pick up and drop off their children.

Neighborhood meetings have focused on the swimming pool, the impact of construction equipment, and access to the campus.

"We are looking at developing other access points to campus," Clark said, "and a way to connect the campus with downtown. There is no visual connection."

The town of Silver City will be rebuilding College Ave and ultimately 12th Street. "There is no gateway to the university. The city is on board with developing one. We are investigating access to and from U.S. 180 West to the campus. The Fire Department was ecstatic," Clark said.

"Our goals are to support long-range planning and the university strategic plan," Clark said.

"This master plan can be taken to the state to develop funding," Clark said. "It also will focus on student recruitment and retention, and maximize the utilization of the existing facility. We want to enhance community involvement and support. We want to create a doable plan and implement it."

He said eventually student housing would be at the top of the hill, "but it's hard to walk down the hill to campus. "The goal is connecting spaces to one another."

In the 1-5 year phase of the plan, Light Hall is beginning renovation. The swimming pool will be renovated, with basketball and volleyball just outside the pool area. The plan is looking at a new student union, including a ballroom and other facilities for a one-stop shop.

To aid traffic, vehicular and pedestrian, the plan is to add sidewalks to Kentucky Street. Renovations for Harlan Hall and the HVAC at the museum to protect the artifacts are also envisioned. 'We're looking at campus infrastructure, power, technology, water, gas, wastewater, drainage and roads," Clark said. "In addition, the plan will address campus beautification, pathways, sidewalks, landscaping and gathering spaces."

The session was opened up to questions from the audience.

A participant said it looked like the plans would take a lot of power. "What about solar arrays?"

"We will definitely look at sustainability and smartly designed buildings, as well as sites for solar," Clark said.

Kim Clark, county resident, asked how the pathways would be created.

"We have ideas," Clark said. "We would have a pathway start at Mustang Village. Eckles Hall is going away. We are developing a road with sidewalks from the top of the hill."

Shepard asked how to slow down traffic, and Clark said it would be circuitous. A student recreation center would include a walking path. The idea is to create a friendly pedestrian atmosphere. Clark said one thing that needed to move was the student life center. "At some point, we want to see rezoning of College Street to encourage small commercial things, such as coffee shops, to move closer to the students."

"We are looking at changing the area to mixed use," Shepard said. "We don't want to see big box stores like McDonald's, but better would be a tony boutique feel."

Clark said any changes needed to be evaluated within the neighborhood context and the scale of the building.

A questioner said meshing town and gown was an issue because so many of the town's events happen in the summer when there are no students on campus. "Could the residential hall be used for people to stay in?"

Clark said New Mexico Tech was looking at using residential halls for conferences and such, as well as creating a freshmen area where the professors would go to the students.

"What is the status of ADA compliance?" Peter Falley, town resident, asked.

Clark said the plan was looking at creating pathways that are accessible to buildings. "Not all buildings are ADA," he noted.

Shepard said the university is doing an inventory on ADA compliance of bathrooms and such.

George Julian Dworin, Silver City Arts and Cultural District manager, asked if there had been any discussion about the university having a facility downtown.

"There are great spaces downtown," Clark said. "It's a great opportunity."

A female participant asked about the plan 10 to 15 years out for the baby in the audience.

"That will happen in the conversations with the regents," Clark said. "For instance, how better to use Ritch Hall. It will be the regents' vision. I feel like the five-year concept gets the center of campus defined."

The rest of the meeting will be covered in a subsequent article.

 

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