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A Walkable Campus: Shepherd’s New Master Plan

By Staff | May 6, 2013

On April 17 and 18 Robert A. M. Stern, an architectural firm contracted to recommend a new 10-year master plan for Shepherd University, presented its proposed plan to the university and to the Shepherdstown community. I really like the proposal. The new proposal envisions trails winding through campus and small eating and/or relaxing areas scattered along those trails. It calls for smaller dormitories than the ones Shepherd has now and a new campus quadrangle between the Frank Center and the Center for Contemporary Arts. King Street north of High Street will become a pedestrian mall, and a welcome center looking very much like the Shepherdstown Town Library will sit at its High Street terminus. The University welcome center and the town library building will “bookend” the block of King Street containing town hall, presenting a visible link between town and gown.

The Stern plan envisions a campus that encourages walking, and therefore is much more inviting than the one Shepherd has now. The plan reflects the invitation students receive from our welcoming staff, faculty, and community. And by structuring our campus to encourage walking, we build a foundation for the rest of the plan’s purpose-to ease traffic and parking problems. It does this in a way that moves far too slowly for most of us, but seeks to be affordable.

Here is how the plan progresses: The proposed master plan puts a priority on first taking steps that will enhance Shepherd’s revenues, and therefore pay for improvements. The plan also systematically adds parking spaces from its earliest stages and culminates in the addition of a parking garage that Stern recommends be targeted toward the end of the 10-year life of the plan. The rationale for this timeline is clear: A parking garage will cost about $12 million today for only 400 or so spots, so this is a big investment for a return that will serve fewer than one tenth of our students.

As many of us know, the university and community leaders have worked tirelessly to find funding for a parking garage over the course of many years. Currently, the major drawback is that Shepherd doesn’t have the resources to build it. Stern’s recommendation was made with the understanding that the university has had great difficulty getting any increase in revenue from the state of West Virginia in recent years. When money is found for a garage we plan to build it along with an adjacent student center. The student center can be paid with student fees, while the garage is what is called an auxiliary and has to stand on its own funding like a residence hall or bookstore. The reason for building both a student center and a parking garage at the same time is to minimize the disruption that comes from construction-disruption to student learning and to community comfort. We prefer to only disturb an area once with construction, which is why the pedestrian underpass was built at the same time as Phase II of the Center for Contemporary Arts.

Should a significant boost in funding occur for any of the projects included in the plan, the schedule can be altered. We presume that, as an entity reliant on state support, help will have to come from the state, but other sources such as gifts and bonds are part of our funding plan for this master plan. If funding materializes, the parking garage can be built sooner than the plan envisions. The folks at Stern who have worked closely with Shepherd pointed this out at several public meetings held on the plan for the community.

Meanwhile, there are other steps the university will be taking soon to ease parking shortages and traffic congestion. The proposed plan calls for relocation of our maintenance building. This will free up as many as 40 spaces near Princess Street. Sara Cree Hall is scheduled for demolition to make way for the parking garage targeted for that location. We have considered demolishing that building early to make way for temporary parking of about a hundred spaces. If those new spaces could replace some of the current student parking beside White Hall, some spaces at the corner of Princess and High streets could be reserved for customers of downtown shops.

Because Shepherd will be opening the new center in Martinsburg in June, this could result in slightly fewer commuters for evening and graduate courses. While the goal of this center is to reach people who because of scheduling difficulties are not currently students, its opening will provide classroom space to supplement the Shepherdstown campus.

A master plan is a guideline, not a prescription. Shepherd hasn’t followed the present plan verbatim and probably won’t follow this one verbatim either. In fact, the Stern proposal includes plenty of flexibility so that the university can easily adapt to changing situations during the life of the plan.

I’ve had people who examined the plan tell me that if they were high school seniors looking for a place to go to college, they would salivate at the idea of attending school on such a cool campus. I just hope it’s a campus that encourages students, faculty, and staff alike to walk easily from end to end and enjoy the hike.

To learn more about Shepherd’s master plan, visit www.shepherd.edu and click on “Draft 10-Year Facilities Master Plan” under Announcements.