The University of Texas at El Paso is undergoing such a transformative
makeover that previous generations of Miners may not recognize the campus when
the project is finished next year.
University officials who unveiled the project's details on Wednesday said the $25 million project goes beyond aesthetics and will incorporate other elements that together will change campus life.
Centennial Plaza -- a new large outdoor space closed off to vehicle traffic at Hawthorne and University -- will be the project's
centerpiece. This area is bordered by the UTEP Union-West, the Psychology Building, Geological Sciences, the Peter and Margaret de Wetter Center and the Administration Building.
It will be reminiscent of urban plazas in the Paso del Norte region, featuring a striking walkway surrounded by groves of native mesquite trees.
"This expansive and versatile green space at the heart of the UTEP campus will become an oasis for campus and community events, a haven for artists, thinkers and writers, and an ideal venue as an outdoor classroom," according to a university brochure.
For decades, this part of the campus was marked by uneven terrain and irregular parking spaces, and it was hard for pedestrians to navigate, especially
for people with disabilities. It lacked a large useful outdoor space, did not provide shade, and failed to connect different parts of the campus efficiently.
"As we approach the celebration of our centennial, we have begun a new phase in the expansion of our campus facilities with the goal of creating a climate consistent with UTEP's development as a national research university with a 21st-century student demographic," UTEP President Diana Natalicio said. "This transformation will improve pedestrian safety, change the climate of the campus and replace aging infrastructure.
"It will also require a lot of adjusting and maneuvering during the construction period."
According to artist renderings, the extensive transformative project continues to blend the university's Bhutanese architecture with Southwestern flora to create an appealing pedestrian-friendly campus, which will offer ample shade areas and several open spaces for students, faculty and visitors.
On an academic level, the university continues to pursue Tier-One status, and is making plans to celebrate its centennial next year.
The inner campus makeover project is scheduled to be finished in August 2014.
"The initiative could not be achieved without the support of our many friends and alumni who have chosen to direct their donations to these efforts," Natalicio said.
With the transformation, the university also plans to improve the connectivity between campus facilities and buildings.
Greg McNicol, UTEP associate vice president of business affairs, said some of the old utility lines that will be changed out date to the 1930s and 1940s. Some existing sidewalks were constructed in 1968, when the student population was about 10,000, less than half of what it is today.
"The transformation project will reconnect Centennial Plaza to the rest of campus by eliminating streets and parking lots, and the vehicular traffic they support, and will uncover and recapture the natural rock structures and arroyos," McNicol said.
He said that at least 200 new trees will be planted as part of the project, and that reclaimed water will be used to water the plant life.
Catie McCorry-Andalis, UTEP dean of students, said the changes will create more spaces for student activities, such as the popular Minerpalooza, and extend classrooms to the outdoors for hands-on learning and small-group discussions.
"The transformation will also serve as a fantastic recruitment tool," she said.
A hand-carved and hand-painted lhakhang (temple) from Bhutan will be located at the northwest edge of Centennial Plaza, between Magoffin Auditorium and Geological Sciences Building. It will be a key part of UTEP's 2014 Centennial Plaza inauguration.
Roman Marquez, project manager for contractor C.F. Jordan, said replacing the utility infrastructure will be probably the most challenging part of the project.
"Of all the projects we've worked on before at UTEP, this one is going to have the greatest impact on students," Marquez said.
UTEP students Mariah Tarin, 19, a freshman majoring in clinical psychology, and Santiago Munoz, 21, a sophomore computer science major, said they are aware of the project and look forward to the amenities it will provide.
"Moving toward more of a closed campus is a good plan," Munoz said. "The new layout will help to bring everyone together. Having a more student-friendly campus encourages students to become more active in university events."
Tarin said she likes the idea of getting from one building to another more easily.
"The campus will be better because we will have more room to do the kind of things we want to do," Tarin said. "I hope there will be better lighting at night, because I walk from parking near Sun Bowl Drive to my classes, and it gets really dark once the sun goes down."
McNicol said UTEP plans to improve the lighting at night, and ensure that emergency phones are installed in key areas.
University officials said they will keep the public informed about changes, such as street closings, during the construction period. A new parking garage at Hawthorne and Schuster will help to offset the approximately 319 parking spaces that will be eliminated as a result of the project.
The university's transformation project covers 10.6 acres in the campus core (Centennial Plaza, area in front of Old Main and Leech Grove), and will also include these components:
-- Wiggins Road: A multilevel plaza, trees and solar lighting create a new space in front of the University Library and including the entrance to the Health Sciences and Nursing Building.
-- Hawthorne Street: The area between Rim Road and University Avenue will become a pedestrian walkway with wider sidewalks with lighting and landscaping accents and shade trees like Chinese pistache and red oak. Slatted canopy structures will be available for students, faculty and visitors.
-- Psychology Building: The structure will stand out with shaded pavilions and terraces in the front facing Centennial Plaza.
-- UTEP Union-West: The courtyard at the west entrance will become a shaded patio with a column-supported trellis arbor facing the Centennial Plaza.
-- Old Main Building-Circle Drive: The drive will be replaced with a pedestrian concourse that opens into a park, which extends south to the Psychology Building and east to Vowell Hall and the Education Building, and which will include a decorative water feature, possibly a fountain.
-- Miner Alley: The walkway extends from the south end of Sun Bowl Stadium to University Avenue. It will feature a "micro climate" of a desert canyon, with trees and Chihuahuan vegetation. There will be places to sit and relax along the corridor.
-- Arroyo: UTEP plans to make better use of its arroyo that runs from Miner Village on the northeast end to the College of Business Administration at the southwest corner. New bridges, overlooks and landscaping will help to highlight its plant and wildlife, along with additional pathways, seating to encourage walking and bicycling.
-- University Avenue-Eastern Gateway: A Bhutanese-style gateway will greet people who enter the campus from Oregon and Mesa streets. It will feature a portal that spans University Avenue, a bridge that crosses the arroyo and a vehicle-pedestrian plaza near the bridge for easy loading and unloading. Trees will line University Avenue to the Oregon intersection.
-- Leech Grove: Native greenery and flowering plants will frame the garden knoll on the grove's eastern edge, and a fountain at the center will double as a stage for performances.
Check on the project's progress at onthemove.utep.ed.
(c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
Visit the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) at www.elpasotimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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