Lehigh University
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Lehigh hosts campus-wide meeting on new planning efforts

More than 100 members of the Lehigh community attended a meeting in Perella Auditorium Monday to hear updates on the new campus planning effort that is being led by the New York-based architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB).

The university’s new master planning process, which was announced in early April after gaining approval by the Board of Trustees, will be implemented over the course of the next decade.  As with the last plan, this undertaking carries the potential to dramatically reshape the physical planning and design of the campus, which could include the rehabilitation of existing buildings, construction of new buildings, landscapes, walkways, community and gathering spaces and transportation.

At the May campus meeting, representatives from the firm walked the audience through findings culled from several information-gathering sessions with on-campus constituencies, as well as community-based groups such as Bethlehem city officials.

Based on these conversations, the BBB representatives said that they were able to learn of favorite campus gathering spots (Campus Square, the UC, Linderman Library and the new STEPS building), highly used open spaces (the UC front lawn, the Lower Cents quad and the green space in front of STEPS), as well as buildings and areas that appear to be under-utilized, such as several areas on the borders of campus.

Needs identified by earlier groups included more meeting spaces, more small- and large-scale venues for events, a conference center, an alumni house, more fitness and recreation space, updated interiors in several of the university’s iconic historic structures, more undergraduate and graduate housing, expanded research space, and one building or area to serve as the “heart of the campus.”

Transportation and safety issues cited in earlier meetings included an expanded TRACS schedule, more lighting on campus, and a shuttle service between parking lots and main campus, in order to reduce the high number of cars on campus.

BBB’s representatives were also made aware of the unique challenges posed by the hilly main campus area, which is marked by walkways and staircases throughout the 450-foot vertical climb from the lowest area of campus to the highest.

Neil Kittridge, an architect and urban planner with BBB, also provided  a campus view from increasing perspectives, pulling back to illustrate how campus spaces are perceived by room, building, campus, town and region.

What emerged was a clear consensus that an area of focus in the new plan would be a tier that traverses campus and includes student life areas (such as the UC and the Hawk’s Nest), as well as the Trembley Park residential complex.

Throughout the presentation, audience members were able to weigh in with responses to specific questions and provide feedback on proposed initiatives through hand-held clickers, which were provided by BBB. The information gathered also indicated that most of those in attendance were members of the administration, with a significant portion having more than 20 years of employment with Lehigh.

“That’s a really important segment with institutional knowledge,” said BBB architect Elizabeth Leber, who indicated that campus-wide meetings will continue throughout the planning process to continue to gain insight and to keep the campus apprised of progress.

Story by Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Monday, May 09, 2011

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