ASU's Master Plan

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(Article From the Albany Hearld)

A chimney, originally part of Caroline Hall built in 1917, stands as a monument to ASU founder Joseph Holley on the lower campus where several academic buildings will be razed as part of reconfiguration plans. 

A field adjacent to the ACAD Auditorium is the proposed site of the Ray Charles Fine Arts Center at ASU.

ALBANY - Retiring small academic buildings in the flood plain, making the ridge area of the campus a student activity center and turning the upper campus into an academic area were some of the ideas presented to Albany State University's employees recently.

The proposals were highlighted as part of the unveiling of ASU's 2018 Master Plan Phase 01 during ASU's Faculty/Staff Conference at the campus' ACAD Auditorium.

The plans were presented by ASU President Everette Freeman, Vice President in the Office of Fiscal Affairs Larry Wakefield, College of Arts & Humanities Dean Leroy Bynum and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia Director of Planning Alan Travis. The group also fielded questions from the audience of about 200 Albany State employees.

With 4,596 students enrolled at ASU, Wakefield said the school has a "real, planned strategic goal" of reaching 6,800 students by 2018. After the meeting, he said the school's student population is growing by 3 percent a year.

"Is the 6,800 a number I like?" Freeman asked the crowd near the end of the 90-minute session. "No. I like 10,000 students (by 2018), but 6,800 is (where we're on track to be)."

Wakefield said the four-year institution needs more space to accommodate the school's projected growth. The first piece in the Master Plan puzzle would be funding of the Ray Charles Fine Arts Center. The $1.8 million funding for planning and site work at the center, which has been discussed since 2000, was taken out of this year's budget by the state House.

Bynum said the current design for the Charles Fine Arts Center would omit the planned 600-seat performing hall theater due to cost constraints. The 104,411-gross-square-foot building would house the mass communications, art and music departments, as well as office support and general instruction areas. The building is projected to cost $25 million-$30 million.

The theater venue has a 30,056-gross-square-foot requirement and a $15 million price tag. The need for the theater came into question when the department had only 20 "existing" theater majors. That number is projected to be 40 by 2018. For comparison's sake, mass communications has 125 existing majors and 150 projected; music has 75 existing majors and 100 projected; and art has 30 existing majors and 60 projected.

As a result of leaving the performing hall out of the proposed Charles center, Albany State's fine arts department would continue to use the city's Albany Municipal Auditorium, Bynum said.

The Ray Charles Fine Arts Center would be located in the now vacant grassy area behind the university's ACAD Building on the upper campus. This move would trigger the start of the university's plans to move all its academic buildings to the upper campus in the future. To do this, the school would retire all the academic, housing and other buildings currently in the flood plain: Holley (Fine Arts) Hall, Peace (Business) Hall, Hartnett and Simmons classrooms, Andrews, Gibson and Wiley dormitories, plant operations and the Reese Student Union.

Travis said that it costs $375,000 annually to maintain the buildings in the flood plain.

"Where you are now (the ACAD Building) is the academic heart and soul," Freeman said of the proposed campus changes. "The cafeteria is where the student activities will be. ... What we'll have is a lot more compact campus."

To alleviate concerns some in the crowd had about losing the buildings they worked in, Freeman assured them that, "We won't take buildings off-line until we have buildings to occupy."

Student housing will also move to the upper campus, as it will surround the new academic buildings. Wakefield said the school currently houses about 38 percent of its students and has a goal of raising that figure to 50 percent by 2018. Funding would come from a revenue bond.

Wakefield said the school would need to build two more buildings to accommodate growth. Concerned professors in the English and science departments each suggested that the next academic building be built after the Charles center should be for their specialty. A new visitor center is also planned.

"There's no expected interest in what the next building will emphasize," Wakefield said. "All of you fight it out and grow your programs and you can come to us." He later told the crowd that any decisions on future academic buildings would "absolutely" include staff input.

However, Travis pointed out that any of the new buildings would likely be built with an expectation that they would be multipurpose in functionality. They would also be used by two or three departments rather than just one as they are in the older, smaller academic buildings.

"To get to 6,800 students is $40 million-$50 million in today's money," he said. "It's not going to be possible to have a building that's unique to (one department) so we can get the most out of all future buildings."

The newly designed lower campus would preserve and define the historic aspects of the school. Daisy Brown Hall, Orene Hall, the President's House and the Caroline Hall Chimney would remain after the renovation process. The Holley Memorial Courtyard would feature trees and a low seating wall. School officials also said the lower area would have an elevated viewing deck to take advantage of the Flint River's beauty and proximity after trees by the river would be cut down. With the demolition of the retired buildings, more greenspace would be opened for sports fields and additional parking.

"The Holley Memorial will truly be a quiet place for reflection," Freeman said.

The ridge area of the campus, which roughly is where Radium Springs Road divides ASU, would have a new student center integrated with the existing dining hall. The 55,000-gross-square-foot Student Union would be funded by a $76 student fee. A planned library expansion would be across from the Student Union building. The plans also call for a new student-life plaza.

"The master plan is not set in stone," Freeman said. "There's some old and new. If we could do what we wanted, this would look like the Taj Mahal. Sometimes there's more will than money."

Added Wakefield: "We think this is a good plan and thank everyone who has helped with it."

Beyond continuing to use the Albany Municipal Auditorium for big events, Albany State officials said they have no designed plans to try and extend some of the school's campus downtown, such as a university book store, which has been discussed in the past.

"We see more connection between town and gown, but what we're telling the town is you have to put more skin on the town for us to put on our gown," Freeman said.

Wakefield said by keeping the school's growth on campus, the university would also be able to control the location of buildings and landscaping.

"The city is really pushing us to come downtown, but we're going to stay on campus," he said. However, Wakefield stated in a later e-mail that, "As part of our Master Planning process, ASU has been in communication with various civic, city and county leaders including Peter Studl, Bob Brooks and Don Buie. We plan to continue those discussions to explore options which could benefit the city and ASU."

Wakefield did note that he has suggested that when the state fixes the currently closed Broad Street bridge, it could make it more pedestrian friendly to encourage ASU students to trek downtown.

Funding for most of the proposed Master Plan ideas would come from pending Georgia legislative action out of the state's capital budget, Wakefield said. He anticipates funding for the Ray Charles Fine Arts Center to be secured in the next legislative term.

"Ray Charles will be back in the state capital budget (in September) and (has been) approved by the Board of Regents. They've already approved it in the past," he said. "The additional housing projects and the student center, we're at the beginning phases of those projects and they'll be submitted to the Board for approval at the appropriate time."

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