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Lehigh embarks on new campus planning process

Lehigh President Alice P. Gast calls the University Center "the heart of the university, and we aim to renew its place as the hub of activity for the campus community.”

At the recent official dedication of Lehigh’s new $62.1 million STEPS building, Lehigh President Alice P. Gast marked this significant milestone in Lehigh history by noting that “bringing diverse faculty and students from a variety of disciplines under one roof will enable us to confront (global) challenges from multiple perspectives. It will provide the best opportunity to advance our knowledge and spark the discussions needed to generate viable solutions.”

Although it has only been open a few months, the structure that houses interdisciplinary science and environmental education classrooms, meeting rooms and research labs is already an established campus destination, where faculty, staff and students “make use of all the wonderful  spaces in the building,” as College of Arts and Sciences Dean Anne Meltzer noted at the dedication.

The state-of-the-art building houses several departments that once occupied Williams Hall. The move of departments from Williams to STEPS has generated new possibilities for the use of the university’s physical spaces, as well as an opportunity to align them with the long-range strategic plan, according to university administrators.

“Our plan clearly articulates a goal of creating an environment where the academic and living experiences merge into an integrated learning experience,” says Gast. “As we seek to engage every student in the full breadth of opportunity available at Lehigh, we can use this opportunity to take a critical look at how our spaces can draw our community together in creative and productive ways.”

The university is now embarking on a new master planning process, which will be led by the New York-based architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle and will be implemented over the course of the next decade. As with the implementation of the last plan—which restored iconic structures and created pedestrian walkways—this plan carries the potential to once again dramatically impact Lehigh’s physical campus.

A thoughtful approach

A key initiative under consideration is the creation of new student spaces in the University Center to create an inviting and inclusive gathering spot on campus. “This building is the heart of the university and we aim to renew its place as the hub of activity for the campus community,” Gast says.

Provost Pat Farrell says that a thoughtful approach to the vacant spaces in Williams Hall can consolidate student services for greater convenience, provide renovated space for a growing academic department, and create an innovative space for faculty, staff and visitor interaction on global issues.

“The inclusion of all of these in one building will reinforce the integration of academic programs, interdisciplinary programs and student support,” Farrell says.

While the University Center and Williams Hall initiatives would take a number of years to implement and are dependent on additional fundraising, a project to construct a premiere wrestling center and practice room on the fourth floor of Grace Hall is likely to begin sooner. 

Some offices, meeting spaces, locker rooms and strength areas used by wrestling would be relocated from Taylor to Grace, freeing up much-needed physical activity spaces in Taylor Gym, which can be used by student clubs and organizations. Student programs currently housed in Upper Grace could be moved to other locations on campus

The options for the University Center and Williams Hall will be considered within the context of the Master Plan, which will be developed over the next nine months. The Master Plan will review a number of issues that include undergraduate and graduate housing, land utilization and development, parking, transportation and sustainable campus design standards.

The process will include several opportunities for input among campus constituencies.  A meeting with the architectural firm is scheduled for students on April 25th, and another for faculty and staff is scheduled on May 9th.

Story by Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Tuesday, April 05, 2011

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