New Grounds Plan Accommodates Growth Without Expansion

November 21, 2008 — A new Grounds Plan for the University of Virginia reaches back to Thomas Jefferson's earliest ideals while stretching forward with 21st-century urban planning principles.

David J. Neuman, Architect for the University, carefully pointed out that, while the plan will guide the University's development for the next 20 years, it is not a conventional campus master plan that imposes a particular future building on a specific site.

"Jefferson planned a village where students and professors lived, learned and exercised together in an agrarian setting," Neuman said. "Over the years, while the University developed into a rich learning community, that sense of unity diminished as the physical campus expanded."

The 2008 Grounds Plan will guide the reintegration of the various areas of the Grounds by use of green areas, multi-use buildings and transportation links — returning, as the plan states, to Jefferson's "powerful paradigm."

"This is more a methodology than a master plan," Neuman said. "It incorporates the University's need to address growth, research and collaboration, but it also gives us a long-term focus on sustainability – sustaining the institution as well as the environment."

Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said a sense of "place" is important to the University. "It defines our values," he said. "The Grounds Plan is a road map for protecting our heritage and building toward a sustainable future for the Grounds."

Arthur Garson Jr., executive vice president and provost of U.Va, said the planning process will coordinate overall University initiatives, including those undertaken as a result of the Commission on the Future of the University and Virginia 2020.

"We will be models for the country in how we knit programs and facilities together effectively and efficiently, as well as aesthetically," he said.

Sandridge said the University community values green spaces, useful buildings and convenient gathering places. "The Grounds Plan is a tool for ensuring that those who follow us will enjoy these same physical amenities that Mr. Jefferson envisioned."

The University is poised to grow, even though the current economic climate would seem to indicate otherwise. Under the 2006 Higher Education Restructuring Act, U.Va. agreed, among other things,  to add 150 more students each year for the next 10 years in exchange for more autonomy in such areas as tuition rates and employment practices. In addition, programs arising out of the Commission on the Future of the University and Virginia 2020 planning initiatives will create demand for classrooms, laboratories and offices.

Anticipating that growth, the plan identifies "redevelopment zones," an approach to planning that is common in urban and community planning but rarely applied to campuses. And those zones are within the University's existing boundaries.

"Our neighbors, particularly in the Venable, Lewis Mountain, Fifeville and Jefferson Park Avenue areas, have been apprehensive that we would move further into their neighborhoods," Neuman said. "Our goal is to live within areas we've already defined and own."

Redevelopment won't make U.Va. overly dense like a major urban area, Neuman said.

"It's 'green' — sustainable, in other words — to do redevelopment," he explained. "It doesn't mean only to tear down and rebuild." He cited the rehabilitation of New Cabell Hall as an example of an older building gaining new usefulness.

The ratio of open space will also be maintained. In terms of overall acres of developed land, U.Va. is a medium-sized campus among peer institutions, he said. The density — how much of those acres are covered by buildings, parking lots and other structures — is what makes a campus feel urban, suburban or rural. In U.Va.'s case, nearly two-thirds of its 1,400 acres are landscaped or open space, reflecting its rural heritage.

Barring unforeseen major program changes, "we can accomplish in-fill development for the next 20 years without jeopardizing the University's character," Neuman said. Current examples are the Emily Couric Cancer Center and the new science buildings planned for the Whitehead Road area, both of which are adding significant building space as redevelopment projects.

One way to accomplish that is by building taller. "We are right now a three- and four-story campus," he said. "We will become a four- to six-story campus, but some of those stories will be underground, like recently completed Wilsdorf Hall, so that the skyline won't be dominated by tall buildings."

A solid plan and its associated planning process, Neuman said, works in both good and bad economic times. "It allows us to make good decisions, to be responsive to opportunities and constraints," he said. "A good plan also responds to changes in program."

Unlike typical college master plans, the Grounds Plan was developed mainly in-house rather than by outside consultant firms. "This was a University-owned process," Neuman said. "It's tailored to our needs."

Although experts in such areas as transportation and biodiversity/conservation were consulted, the bulk of the work was developed in the Office of the Architect by Neuman, Senior Land Use Planner Julia Monteith and Geographic Information Systems Planner Andrew Greene, working with colleagues in Facilities Management, Parking and Transportation and the Provost's Office.

University campus plans often run higher than seven figures, he said, but the new Grounds Plan was less than $200,000 over its four-year development, including all consultant assistance, student internships, printing costs and Web site development.

Four years ago, faculty, students and staff began meeting in a series of workshops to ensure that the eventual plan reflected their goals and concerns, as well as the requisite academic and student affairs programming. "This is very much an input-driven plan," he said.

Principles adopted early this year by the Board of Visitors guided the plan's final development:
• Environmental quality. The redevelopment zones are designed to maintain or restore ecologically sensitive areas, such as stormwater retention, as well as to enhance the landscape qualities of the Grounds.

• Mixed use and collaboration. The plan incorporates "academic/mixed use," comprising teaching, research, libraries, student services and University community uses such as cafes and auditoriums, as well as "residential/mixed use," which accommodates housing ranging from dorms to family housing to dining halls.

•  Connectivity. The new plan improves traffic patterns for buses, pedestrians and bicyclists and integrates disparate parts of Grounds in the tradition of Jefferson's reliance on the colonnades and ranges.

•  Context and Preservation. Because it emphasizes in-fill development and redevelopment, the plan does not expand to any significant degree the University's footprint within the larger Charlottesville and Albemarle County communities. It also takes full advantage of U.Va.'s unique cultural and historical heritage and facilities.

Sandridge noted, "We are the beneficiaries of a World Heritage Site in the midst of a vibrant university. The new Grounds Plan documents our commitment to preserve this environment for future generations."

— By Marian Anderfuren