A research village, an amphitheater, an elevated transit system: all ideas seemed possible at this week’s unveiling of the UL Lafayette Master Plan, a proposal that focused on unity and sustainability in its ambitious outlook for the next 15 years of university growth.
The vision aims to marry the university’s two physically divided campuses through community-building and progressive transportation design while preserving the school’s historically distinct architecture.
“It’s our hope that when historians study the University of Louisiana’s progress, they will find that you and I were aware that this is our time, and we are determined to make the most of it,” said UL President E. Joseph Savoie, Ed.D., to more than 100 members of faculty, staff and the public.
“They will see that we recognize our responsibility to guide the growth of the university in a way that will continue to honor its past, and prepare to grow and prosper in the future.”
Steve Oubre, principal architect of the plan and co-founder of the Lafayette firm Architects Southwest, led the hour-long presentation in Angelle Hall just after 2 p.m. Monday.
“I think some of the most controversial things that we did were centered around the automobile,” he said.
Proposed plans include restricting campus automobile traffic on two four-lane roads — Bertrand Drive and St. Mary Boulevard — to two lanes, then repurposing the unused lanes as transit- and bicycle-only. Ultimately, the Johnston Street bike lane will connect to campus, where bicycle stations will be placed throughout to accommodate.
The plan also reconsiders university transit options, with the firm examining whether to expand and reroute the current bus system or to implement something completely new altogether: an overhead rail system.
“At first, I totally dismissed the tram idea (because of cost),” Oubre explained. “But we began to collect data that said an overhead system was not only viable, but could be competitive to the more-affordable parking deck, if we did not have to secure land. And that was the big ‘if.’”
More certain, however, is the Master Plan’s acknowledgement of current campus parking woes, as it lists the addition of at least two new parking decks at $21 million per structure. The addition of 3,800 parking spaces will also make up for the spaces to be eliminated from Rex Street and the frontages of buildings on University Avenue.
“By definition,” Oubre explained, “an avenue (is) a tree-lined street of beautiful architecture. We’re beginning to think about how, in the comprehensive plan, we can turn the frontages of the campus back to the grandeur that they once had.”
As geographical unity proved the most prominent concern for the plan’s architects, major importance was placed on development along St. Landry Street, which Oubre described as the “umbilical cord” connecting the historical campus to the still-developing university commons area and research park.
The university would first need to acquire the unused Lourdes property, however, before developing along the corridor.
Also on the agenda is the development of a “research village,” an expansion upon UL’s current research facilities that will offer more than 600 residential units for graduate students, retirees and young professionals looking to begin their careers in the university community.
“You’ve always heard about our students leaving the state. They’re leaving not just because of opportunities, but because of an excitement that exists in other places that they would rather be than in a suburban community such as ours,” Oubre explained. “So it was, from the beginning, a very important step for us to evaluate how we can create a place to retain not only our young graduates, but a place that would bring back some of our alumni, and even have them retire in the city.”
The development would allot for 250,000 square-feet of mixed-use commercial retail property in the village, as well as a 100,000-square-foot performing arts center and an outdoor amphitheater to seat 700. Such expansion prompted the architects to suggest doubling the size of the Convention Center, which would also demand a new hotel.
With the reworking of campus cohesion also comes the relocation of various colleges across campus.
Nursing is to be shifted out of Wharton Hall and onto the Lourdes campus, if acquired. The College of Liberal Arts is to be relocated entirely into the Quad, thus allowing Engineering and Science to spill out into Griffin Hall. A new quad and additional new buildings will face Girard Park Drive.
The future will also see a continuation of the housing construction underway for the past few years.
Land at Lewis and Johnston streets that currently houses a dog park, skateboarding park and baseball field will be repurposed as married- and graduate-student housing. The university acquired the land — Youth Park — from the Lafayette Consolidated Government as part of a deal that gave ownership of the university Horse Farm to the city.
A series of charrettes that included faculty, staff, students and Lafayette residents were held over the past two years to obtain input in designing the plan. Six main objectives were considered: academic success, community, quality of life, economic development, sustainability and safety.
Oubre said implementation costs have been evaluated and delivered, but he did not reveal what those costs were, and there is not yet a set schedule for the overhaul.