November 28, 2020

Sasaki & Associates unveil Master Plan design for Webster University

Sasaki & Associates unveiled the design to recreate Webster University during two meetings Tuesday, Feb. 21. Sasaki, a firm out of Boston and San Francisco, was hired in July to create a new master plan for the university. The group is nearing the end of the “Documentation Phase” — the third phase of four — to revamp the campus. The plan will be carried out over a span of 15 years or more.
Faculty were invited to the first presentation of the master plan. The session was held in the Library Conference room at 4 p.m., and approximately 25 faculty members attended. A separate presentation was held for the Webster Grove community the same evening at 7 p.m. in the Winnifred Moore Auditorium.  Sasaki & Associates elaborated on the areas of the university that would be affected by the plan: academic, residence facilities, parking and transportation, landscaping, dining, student recreation and commons areas.

Over the past several months, Sasaki collected data and research through surveys sent to students, faculty and the Webster Groves community. The overall goal of the design is to increase

ALEX BRANDT / THE JOURNAL Members of Sasaki & Associates present the master plan to faculty Feb. 21.

connectivity of the home campus while effectively using space the university currently owns. It also plans to accommodate the expected increase of enrollment and academic programs. With these goals in mind, the plan calls for co-locating related programs and services in the same facilities.

Based on the survey results, students requested more spaces for socialization. Sasaki proposed a new student center on the corner of Edgar Road and Big Bend Boulevard. The new center could include lounge areas, office spaces, meeting and presentation rooms, the bookstore and an expanded dining area. The Multicultural Center and Counseling and Health Services are also proposed to move from their current location on Garden Avenue and into the student center for centralization.

“Consolidating a lot of different functions that serve students and campus population generally as a meeting space can be a really important achievement. They’ve done some thinking for us that can create a lot of possibilities and decisions to make,” said Bruce Umbaugh, professor in the department of philosophy. The plan also calls for a new 80,000 square-foot building that would house the interdisciplinary sciences departments, which are currently located in Webster Hall along with the School of Education.

The English department, now in the Pearson House, would also reside within this new building. The building would be located behind the proposed student center. The building would provide updated lab facilities, classrooms and offices for the science department.

In turn, the Sam Priest House off Big Bend would be renovated and the Pearson House would be demolished. Some faculty within the English department voiced frustration about Pearson being demolished, as the building is a historic home. Concerns about the English department moving into the new building designated for interdisciplinary sciences also arose because of severe differences in departmental needs.

The district that would house the interdisciplinary sciences academic building and the student commons building would also provide another outdoor quad area for students and faculty to socialize.   This landscaping would help connect the area on the east side of Edgar Road with the west side, where the current quad lies. Sverdrup would continue to undergo renovations to accommodate the School of Communications, and the Visual Art Studio would be renovated and expanded. The building could eventually become a student recreation center with a fitness facility and an outdoor area for extra recreation. The current UC would be expanded to become the new building for art students, according to the Sasaki proposal.

To help connect the two quads on either side of Edgar Road, Sasaki proposed a paving treatment that would create safer pedestrian crossing. This paving would slow traffic at the intersection of Edgar Road and Big Bend Boulevard. Slowing of traffic was a major concern for residents of Webster Groves. David and Lynette Andre are Webster Groves residents and expressed worry about potential traffic hold-ups.

“My biggest concern is the traffic. It’s already bad now. Unless they come up with an alternative way to get across (Interstate)44 from this side of town, it’s going to be pretty tough to get by that road,” said David Andre. “I understand what they’re trying to do and the motivation, but there has to be a practical alternative.”

Plans to expand parking options were also discussed in the presentation. The parking garage would be expanded to the east and more parking spaces would be added where the Kirk House currently is.  This would call for destruction of that building. The Andres expressed concern that, even with extra parking on campus, students who do not purchase parking passes will continue to park on residential streets.

“We’ve been (on Bompart Street) 12 years and we’ve seen the parking go further and further down our street. We can’t even see the end of it anymore,” said Lynette Andre.

Within Webster Hall, the School of Education could expand office areas. Offices located in Garden Park Plaza, like Academic Advising and Career Services, could move into Webster Hall. The IT department on campus is currently located in various facilities around campus. The Sasaki design would consolidate all IT-related areas and move them to Luhr Library in Eden Seminary, across Lockwood Avenue.

Nothing else would be added to that location, which relieved residents who believed Webster was planning to expand on Eden property.

“Our original reason for getting involved in this is because we’re across the street from the green space (by Eden Seminary). We were worried that there were buildings that were going to be built on that land,” said David Andre. “After the presentation, I came away with relief that they were talking about using the Luhr Library and not about taking up green space.”
The timeline of construction of any renovations or new facilities is unknown. Sasaki & Associates is currently in the process of communicating the plan with the university and the Webster Groves community for feedback.

“The next step will be to evaluate and make refinements and for the university to direct us to establish the final direction the master plan takes. It all depends on the final decision the university,” said Michael Mindlin of Jacobs, an associate of Sasaki. “It’s their decision to make.”

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