Toolkit approach makes master plan flexible, enduring
ATHENS, Ohio (Dec. 8, 2006) -- Last week, Ohio University released to its Board of Trustees a 150-page report outlining progress on the first phase of campus master planning. Full of beautiful illustrations and interesting data, the report is most impressive for what it doesn't contain.
"This is not a blueprint of what we are going to begin building tomorrow," University Planner Pam Callahan said. "This is a fine set of tools that allows us to embrace change as it happens, be prepared for it and design it."
Callahan, who chairs the master planning committee, knows that people seeing the report might be tempted to take the ideas or numbers too literally. That is why she carefully refrains from calling it a master plan.
"The toolkit lays out reasonable scenarios for growth and gives us a menu of options," she said. "It sets the groundwork for a fluid process to address space needs, housing, transportation, parking and utility infrastructures."
The toolkit contains analyses, data, models, trends and scenarios that can be used to translate needs into functional and beautiful spaces. No matter which directions the university takes its growth or renewal, planners are now ready with a framework for moving ahead efficiently.
"But if anyone says, 'the report recommends this' or 'the report says Ohio University should do that,' the true purpose of the toolkit gets missed," Callahan said.
The planning teams employed what they have learned so far to identify important overarching principles that will inform all decisions, such as:
- Retaining and enhancing the pedestrian nature of campus
- Organizing the campus into functional greens with natural interconnections
- Increasing opportunities for all members of the university community to interact
- Maintaining and enhancing the beauty of the campus and surrounding natural areas
- Keeping the campus as compact as possible
- Creating flexible spaces that can change purpose over time
- Developing better transportation and parking solutions
- Continuing a transparent and inclusive decision-making process
- Increasing resource-efficient and sustainable practices
The report contains compelling examples of ways these principles might play out.
The university's approach to master planning has piqued the interest of other universities. Callahan recently presented the concept at Syracuse University.
"People say that master plans are dynamic. But people like how the toolkit takes that flexibility a step further," she said.
Ohio University's master planning is distinctive in other important ways. First, the entire process was driven by the fundamental principles in the broader Vision OHIO strategic goals and objectives.
"We kept revisiting and revisiting those core concepts," Callahan said. "We wanted to make certain that the physical campus becomes a dynamic learning community where our most important academic and research activities can thrive."
Secondly, the process was exceptionally inclusive. "We had highly representative committees that included administration, faculty, staff and students in addition to the planners and outside planning partners," Greg Shepherd, dean of the Scripps College of Communications, said.
The city also had intensive input. "We met with mayor's office and council members. We included the city in our deliberations. We studied the city master plan. We considered transit plans, green spaces, housing and neighborhoods," Callahan said.
"It was a transparent and evolving process. In the end, we got down to where we needed to be on the important issues," Shepherd said.
A vision of this scope is bound to bring up questions about how the university will finance the projects it chooses to undertake.
"The planning process has identified more than $500 million in renovations and new construction needs," Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur said. "We're not going to be able to rely on the state for all of that. Over the last several years, the State of Ohio has actually reduced capital funding for universities. We're going to have to think creatively about how we address deferred maintenance and addressing critical needs such as state-of-the-art classrooms, undergraduate teaching laboratories and research facilities."
Decatur stressed that the basic numbers and analyses in the report are by no means final, and said that there will be extensive discussions with the board in the months ahead.
The master planning committee will give everyone in the university and local community an opportunity to see the toolkit, learn about the capital planning process and ask questions at a public forum to be held on Jan. 18, at the Walter Hall Rotunda.
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