Changing the face of the University: Part III

Thomas Celona

If you flip through a copy of 2006’s Belle Air Yearbook, you’ll see a rare visual glimpse into the University’s past. In the section titled “Days Go By,” the yearbook features a photographic history of campus. As grainy black-and-whites transition to clear colors, the changing face of campus unfolds before your eyes.

While you would expect pictures of the campus from the late 1800s in the yearbook to look drastically different than contemporary shots, you may be surprised that pictures from just 20 years ago seem to have something missing. South Campus has yet to be completed, while the West Campus apartments are just a dream in some administrator’s mind.

While these physical changes may surprise, they will pale in comparison to the changes reflected in pictures taken 20 years from today. As Villanova steps forward into the next stage in its history, a major overhaul of the physical appearance of campus is in the works – one that could not only affect the look of campus but the overall academic and social experience of attending Villanova as well.

The possibility for this physical development lies in the Campus Master Plan.

The Campus Master Plan was commissioned by University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., following his inauguration last fall, according to the section of the University’s Web site dedicated to the plan.

Director of Engineering and Construction John Cacciola, who is the project coordinator for the Campus Master Plan, explained the purpose of the plan.

“It’s a roadmap for the future to help us establish what our physical space needs are going forward, both in new construction and renovations,” he said. “It will help us establish the sequence and location of any kind of projects on campus so we can address all the needs we have in an intelligent way.”

While no definite decisions have yet been made regarding the future physical makeup of campus, the past year and a half has witnessed extensive research, planning and communication among various groups to explore the University’s long-term goals.

“We went through a request for proposal process and the search for a firm who was an expert in the field,” Cacciola said. “We selected Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates about a year ago.”

Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates is a firm of architects located in Philadelphia. The firm has been involved in similar projects in the past, developing campus planning studies at Brown University and the University of Michigan, and is currently helping develop master plans for local schools Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, according to its Web site.

“For the past year, we’ve been doing a combination of research and learning about the needs and the issues on campus, mostly related to physical space but also looking at combining that with what the University wants to be and how the University wants to continue to teach in the future and the programs it wants to have in place,” Cacciola said.

In order to coordinate this research, several different committees have been formed in order to assist Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. Cacciola, Executive Director for Facilities Management Bob Morro and Vice President for Administration and Finance Ken Valosky comprise the Project Management Team, which oversees the planning efforts.

Additionally, Donohue and the vice presidents sit on the Presidential Steering Committee, which oversees and reviews the process. Also, four committees composed of administrators and faculty members have been formed to provide feedback. The four committees are Academic Mission, Administrative Services, Pedestrian Encounter and Student Experience.

Each time Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates presents a report, the report is reviewed and commented on by each committee, according to Cacciola.

“It’s a very collaborative process throughout many different levels and people throughout the campus,” Cacciola said.

“The company … ha[s] really listened a lot … trying to really hear from us what the consensus is of what should happen,” said Vice President for Student Life Rev. John Stack, O.S.A.

Cacciola agreed with Stack, commending the approach Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates has taken to the research and assessment process.

“They do it in a way where they truly aren’t so bold as to say, ‘This is what we should do,’ ” Cacciola said. “Their approach I would more describe as saying, ‘Here’s what we heard you say. Did we get it right?’ “

Cacciola said that this approach has led to positive reactions from the various committees.

“I think across the board, top to bottom, most people’s reactions have been very positive,” he said.

So far, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates has presented four reports. The first report, released as part of Phase I in August of 2007, described the objectives of the Campus Master Plan and plans for future reports, along with exploring preliminary possible options.

The three reports released as part of Phase II take the research the firm gathered and begin to propose options for campus development. The first report was released in November of 2007, the second followed in January of this year and the third came out last month. All of the reports are available on the University’s Web site.

After these initial reports, the firm will begin drafting the final report. The report will go through another round of meetings and discussions starting in May and will be presented in draft form to the Board of Trustees in June before a finalized version of the Campus Master Plan Recommendation is given to the Board for approval in October, according to Cacciola.

In the reports that have been released so far, a wide range of issues have been addressed, and a variety of proposed changes have been put forth.

“[The plan] is broken down into three major categories,” Cacciola said.

He identified those areas as assessing current buildings for potential uses and possible renovations, looking at the campus landscape in an attempt to improve the pedestrian experience and addressing possible new construction.

Concerning current buildings, Cacciola said renovating some of campus’ older buildings is a priority.

“The ones we’ve talked about most are Dougherty, Tolentine and the library,” he said.

“Tolentine has to be modernized, and I think that will be one of the next big things to occur,” Stack said.

While the renovation of Tolentine, which contains many classrooms and offices, might seem logistically infeasible, current on-campus construction could provide a solution. The new nursing school building is on track for completion this summer, and the new law school building is set to be finished by the following summer, freeing up space in both St. Mary’s and Garey Halls.

“One of the possibilities that’s been discussed the most is using [St. Mary’s and Garey Halls] as swing space to allow us to renovate some of our older buildings on campus, such as Tolentine,” Cacciola said.

Another main area of the plan about current facilities involves student services.

“We need spaces that are conducive to encouraging and fostering involvement, which fosters the growth and development of students,” Director of Student Development Tom Mogan said.

Cacciola described the options proposed in the reports.

“There are two schools of thought,” he said. “One is to build a giant facility that houses all the student activities space, and the other is to create a little ‘precinct’ of student activity spaces. The latest report was evaluating more the possibility of a student activities precinct, using Dougherty, Vasey and Connelly Center to be that precinct.”

The second objective of the Campus Master Plan aims to make Villanova’s campus more pedestrian-friendly. Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates have assessed circulation patterns on campus and have proposed changes in building and walkway layout that would better accommodate pedestrian traffic. In order to achieve this goal, Villanova has hired the landscaping firm Stephen Stimson and Associates.

“We’re trying to make campus pedestrian-friendly, looking at how people can better receive services, as well as access all of our buildings,” said Executive Director of Campus Ministry Beth Hassel, who sits on the Presidential Steering Committee.

The aspect of the plan that perhaps yields the most potential for radically transforming the look of campus is the possible new construction proposed in the initial reports.

One of the major proposals involves developing Villanova-owned land on the south side of Lancaster Avenue, which stretches from Main Lot all the way down to the intersection of Lancaster and Spring Mill Road.

“The reports show that we’ve done some capacity studies to see what could possibly fit there, and we’ve looked at all different options, from a combination of residence space, administrative space and retail space,” Cacciola said.

Some possible options for this development include student housing, administrative offices, a new location for the University Shop and non-University retail space, according to the reports.

If this development were to occur, University buildings currently located on the south side of the street would be removed at some point, according to Cacciola.

While these new buildings would take up space in Villanova’s current parking facilities, the plan includes options to address the long-standing problem of on-campus parking.

“The best use of that land would be to create structured parking,” Cacciola said.

Additionally, a main feature of the Campus Master Plan is the creation of a performing arts center – something Donohue mentioned in his Inaugural Address.

“In the latest report and the latest round of meetings, the discussion has been that the best location might be the corner of Lancaster and Ithan Avenues,” Cacciola said.

The Office for Residence Life is also excited about the possibilities new construction could provide.

“We here at Villanova are still in need of housing,” said Marie Schauder, assistant director for housing services. “We need to make our residence halls state-of-the-art as well.”

Cacciola said that nothing has been officially confirmed as of yet, and the order of the development is still being decided.

“One of the key goals over the next few months is to make those determinations – what is the sequencing of what we are going to do first,” he said. “Because whatever we’re going to do requires approvals from different jurisdictions, it requires approval from the Township and it requires funding.”

Cacciola emphasized the need for the University to work with Radnor Township in all stages of development.

“We’re not going to make those decisions in a vacuum and then assume that we’re OK to proceed with whatever we want,” he said. “We’re going to make those decisions in cooperation and in collaboration with the Township because we want to make this a win-win for the community as well.”

Currently, Cacciola estimates a timeline between 15 and 20 years for completion of all the projects included in the Campus Master Plan.

While nothing is set in stone, it is clear that the Campus Master Plan will have a drastic impact on the University as the campus undergoes a physical transformation. With a multitude of possibilities on the table, the plan will help guide the University into the future.

So it might be a good idea to snap some pictures of campus as it looks today because as days go by, the face of Villanova will continue to surprise with its many changes.