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Changing the Future of UVM

Local Matters


Published January 26, 2005 at 5:00 p.m.

When students, faculty and staff from the University of Vermont met last week with a group of landscape architects, urban designers and members of the Burlington community to brainstorm about how the UVM campus should look in 10 years, their ideas and suggestions were all over the map, literally. And that was the whole idea.

The first time UVM drafted a master plan, Lyndon Johnson was president, computers were as big as gymnasiums and Burlington was a mere fraction of its current size. Now, nearly 40 years later, a process has begun to re-envision the campus on the hill, and will address everything from the height of student dorms to the readability of pedestrian signs to the accessibility of wireless Internet service and green spaces on which to throw a Frisbee. As facilitators made clear from the outset, no idea is too outlandish or unworthy of consideration.

"This is for fun. This is for information. We want to hear from you," said Glenn Allen of Hargreaves Associates, one of the two design firms hired to draft the new master plan. "We want this to stay interactive, so be free to voice your wildest dreams."

And dream they did. The 45 or so people who showed up for Thursday night's planning session -- an afternoon session drew more than 100 people -- came up with a dizzying array of suggestions for improving campus transportation, student safety, campus aesthetics and quality of life.

At one table, eight undergraduates, grad students and members of the UVM staff debated suggestions for creating a more cohesive "campus identity" and sense of space. But it was soon obvious that there were as many differing visions as there were students and faculty.

"It'd definitely be cool to have a football team and a stadium where we could go out and tailgate," suggested UVM junior Frank Sacchetti. "We kind of have a mixed bag on the sports thing."

But sophomore Helaine Alon wasn't thrilled with that idea. "How much does it cost to have a football team?" she asked.

"A shitload," someone joked.

"I'd rather see more international students [attracted to campus]," Alon said. "I don't like football."

Other ideas were more universally acceptable to the group. For example, everyone at the table liked the notion of creating more "living and learning" areas, i.e., buildings that combine classrooms, dorms and food services. Another suggestion was to attract more fair-trade and locally owned businesses to UVM, to help students develop closer ties with the greater Burlington community. Still another idea was to acknowledge that Burlington is frozen for much of the academic year, so new structures should include both indoor and outdoor courtyards.

Anne Standish, who works at the Student Health Center, lamented that more students don't use their services. "Students either can't find us or get to us," she said. Her point was made when several students at the table said they didn't know where the Student Health Center was.

One challenge of creating the new master plan will be to incorporate UVM President Dan Fogel's goal to boost student enrollment by 1500 students over the next decade. And as Allen of Hargreave Associates pointed out, first impressions are crucial. Prospective students, he said, will generally make up their mind within the first 15 minutes of their visit about whether a college campus is right for them.

Ideas gleaned from last week's bull sessions will become part of a draft plan that will be presented to the UVM board of trustees in late May or early June. For more information on the process, visit the campus planning website at