Vision of a Connected Campus, Gathering Spaces Guides Master Plan

March 7, 2006

Staunton leaders are starting to talk about it. Reporters are scanning its details for the news hooks. Mary Baldwin alumnae/i are intrigued. Hunt Dining HallMary Baldwin University’s vision of a transformed environment — one that balances practical realities with a compelling vision of the future — is here, in the form of a campus master plan. In the days and weeks ahead, more people will learn about the intricacies of the plan, which is intended to carry Mary Baldwin through its bicentennial in 2042. And members of the Mary Baldwin community — faculty, staff, and students — will be its ambassadors, each equipped with a blend of facts, personal experiences, and visionary ideas. Explaining this rich, comprehensive plan will require concentration, but it will also be motivating. During the last month, information about the plan,Transforming Our Future: 1842–2042, began to emerge from several sources. The Mary Baldwin Board of Trustees endorsed the plan, with minor changes, in February. The complete plan was added to the Mary Baldwin Web site March 6, and can be viewed at . Authored by Phillip Renfrow and John Wittmann of Geier Brown Renfrow Architects based on months of consultation with college personnel, it is visually appealing, well-structured, and, at 38 pages, fairly concise. Yes, the document is written. But the process of transforming the campus has barely begun. As is made clear in the document itself, “there is a great deal of work ahead.” The college now has a guide for creating a physical environment that will support academic, social, and spiritual goals. It is bold, but not so staggering that it is unreachable, even if the final product does not end up mirroring the proposal. Key diagrams on pages 9 and 10 (the future campus is reproduced below) illustrate the dramatic change that would occur on Mary Baldwin’s 54 acres if all the plan’s recommendations are completed. They are exciting. Viewed online, they are also colorful. They are meant to spark discussion, not to give picture of an unchangeable future. “One of the campus master plan’s strengths is that it is in keeping with Mary Baldwin University’s character. As the college’s goals and funding change and evolve, the master plan will be re-evaluated along the way,” said Mary Baldwin President Pamela Fox. “Discussion with faculty, staff, students, and Mary Baldwin advisory groups went into creating the plan, and we will all be called on again to make it a reality.” An aerial view of campus   Strategic setting Before examining the document in detail, it is helpful to understand how this plan fits Mary Baldwin. The blueprint for physical changes to the college is inseparable from the college’s strategic plan, Composing Our Future, unveiled in fall 2004. While the strategic initiative “renew our environment” has an obvious connection to the physical environment, all five initiatives are central to the campus master plan. Revisiting them outlines some of the renovations, new buildings, and site features that are proposed:

    • Make personal transformation a priority: A connected series of gardens, lawns, and paths create a more pedestrian-focused campus and provide small, private spaces for reflection and study. An athletics and wellness center encourages physical health. Highlighting the symbolic and sacred stature of Cannon Hill and the Hunt cupola will foster connection to the college’s history and traditions.


    • Enhance academic excellence: New classrooms in the current Student Activities Center building, proposed renovations to Deming Fine Arts Center, and the construction or acquisition of a performing arts center expand academic space and offer specialized work and showcase areas.


    • Unite and enrich our community: Campus entrances are more visible and accessible, inviting community participation in college events. The centerpiece of the plan is a student activities core, anchored by a sizeable campus green, a multi-purpose student activities center, and an addition at the back of Hunt Dining Hall, which provide space for gathering and interaction. Read more about the projects in the student life core below.


  • Fund our future: Outstanding facilities and campus environment are of vital importance to help fulfill the defining measures of success in the strategic plan — to recruit selectively and retain extensively. The visionary concepts in this plan will also enable the college to attract financial support to secure its future.

Proposed new construction and dramatic landscaping are the undeniably alluring components of the plan, but President Fox cautions that continuing smaller, incremental changes — like those made in summer 2005 — will help the college reach its goals, too. “To accomplish this large transformation, we have to keep our eyes on the smaller projects,” she said. Fox and the architects emphasize maximizing the potential of existing buildings and outdoor spaces before planning large-scale construction. A few suggestions for modest short-term improvements include a caf&eacute in the greenhouse attached to Pearce Science Center, a library reading terrace, and upgrades to Spencer and Woodson residence halls. One Vision, A Unified Campus One overarching purpose emerges from the history, diagrams, and suggestions that fill the pages of the campus master plan — to physically connect the segmented Mary Baldwin grounds. “What you have currently looks, on paper, like two distinct campuses separated by an expanse of roads and parking lots,” Wittmann said, explaining the plan to Mary Baldwin constituents last fall. Looking closer, the college has four areas — historic campus, Cannon Hill, upper campus, and athletic campus — that need to be united to function as one, the plan states. “Creating a unified campus will support personal transformation within an inclusive community,” Dr. Fox said. Some of the plan’s proposed projects accomplish unification on a physical level. Parking lots will be relocated to the campus perimeter. Walking paths will replace roads, and roads will be added in other areas. A campus loop trail will encircle an area from the back of Hunt Dining Hall to the far end of the soccer field. As improvements are made to existing facilities and new ones are built, they will be made accessible according to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Other changes will create a mental feeling of connectedness. Relocating some classrooms to upper campus in the Student Activities Center (the old SMA Mess Hall) will encourage travel from one section to another as part of students’ routines. Green space, trees, and gardens between upper and lower campus will make the journey more inviting. More centers for activity and student housing will enliven the area outside the historic campus district. Elevation changes will be minimized as much as possible. We’ve already seen how physical changes impact study, life, and work at Mary Baldwin. College leaders are applying to the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund for a grant for Phase III of the campus master plan. That step will include further study of spaces for the arts and more detailed vignettes and conceptual drawings of specific areas. The work will help the college prioritize projects and develop a strategy for fundraising. Undoubtedly, questions will be raised, and some will have to remain unanswered for the present. In the meantime, the campus master plan provides the details that the college community needs to reply, “Just watch; this campus will be transformed.” Find out More, in Person

    • Public introduction: Historic Staunton Foundation Brown Bag lunch series, led by Mary Baldwin President Pamela Fox, noon, March 17, Staunton Public Library


  • What’s next with the Campus Master Plan? Meeting led by President Fox, 12:15 p.m. April 18, Miller Chapel

Spotlight: Student Life Core From the front entrance of Hunt Dining Hall, one can look out onto several of Mary Baldwin University’s signature buildings, a manicured expanse of lawn, and into the heart of the city of Staunton. However, few things are picturesque about the current view from the back of the building. The campus master plan proposes changing that. Creating a central area for student life — including social activities, dining, student organizations, daily business, and student life staff — is a priority for college leaders and the master plan architects. The architectural team originally explored the possibility of constructing a single, comprehensive student center, but a project of that scale is currently out of reach for Mary Baldwin. Rather, smaller additions, re-use of existing space, landscaping, and the addition of a few buildings complete the master plan’s vision of a student life “hub” that fits Mary Baldwin’s style:

    • Campus Green: At the pedestrian crossroads of campus, a circular courtyard replaces the pavement and parking lots behind Hunt. The space will be designed for outdoor activities and surrounded by student life functions.


    • Hunt Dining Hall expansion: A 10,000-square-foot, two-story addition is proposed at the back of the building, toward the suggested Campus Green. On one level, a new kitchen will be added and the existing kitchen will become a “food court” serving area. The upper, or mezzanine, level will offer a new entrance to the building from the Campus Green and will be available for student functions. An elevator will provide access to the entire building.


    • Rose Terrace: Relocation of offices for dean of students, student life, residence life, and multicultural affairs.


    • Little House: Office and meeting space for SGA.


    • Wenger: Chapel and Registrar’s Office remain in current locations. Computer labs and language lab relocated to another building. Computer Information Systems (CIS) moves to one of those vacated spaces, and student support services occupy current CIS space. Student services include the Career Center, Writing Center, and Learning Skills Center. The college chaplain, international program, and honors program would also be housed in Wenger.


  • New Student Activity Center: The long-term plan proposes the construction of a new 35,000 to 40,000-square-foot student center to the back and right of Hunt. The multifunction building could house the college bookstore, meeting and office space for students clubs, general meeting rooms, students commons, recreation and lounge space, and a larger chapel. Specific uses would need to be determined in light of the changes in other spaces around campus.

Note: This story was originally published in The Cupola, the Mary Baldwin campus newspaper, March 7, 2006.