University of Akron trustees gave a thumbs up on Wednesday to what could become a new round of campus expansion.
The new master guide plan could fuel $400 million in construction, but details of what is to be done when — if at all — have yet to be hammered out.
The guide is a “strategic document that positions the university to make decisions over time,” Greg Janks, principal of the Boston-based Sasaki Associates, told trustees.
In 1999, Sasaki Associates provided the template for more than $600 million in campus improvements that included InfoCision Stadium, the recreation and wellness center and Student Union.
The university rehired Sasaki last year for $600,000 to update the plan, this time concentrating on buildings that went up before the last plan, some of them in need of renovations.
UA President Luis Proenza said on Tuesday that the new Sasaki guide plan could cost an estimated $400 million to implement.
He said UA officials would begin to prioritize the Sasaki recommendations and decide how to fund them. The university may bite off chunks of projects costing $20 million to $40 million a year rather than trying to put all ideas into play at once, he said.
Not to take these steps would be “competitive suicide,” Proenza said, as sister universities, both public and private, are investing in their facilities, and parents and students alike want nice surroundings.
In addition, UA may relocate some programs to foster what it calls “academic synergies.” For instance, the university may bring together programs in nursing, family and consumer sciences, sports sciences and the Student Recreation and Wellness Center while leaving language pathology and audiology downtown.
Ted Curtis, vice president of capital planning and facilities management, said the guide “is another giant step in maintaining our momentum” of enrollment growth.
One Sasaki suggestion of supreme importance to the sports community would be to build a new basketball arena, as many view the existing James A. Rhodes Arena as outdated and inadequate.
Options for arena
Sasaki pinpoints two options. One site is on UA land at the corner of Spicer and Exchange streets, next to InfoCision Stadium. Or UA could partner with the city of Akron to attract funding to build a new arena across from Canal Park where the Akron Aeros play minor-league baseball.
Sasaki does not indicate which of the two sites it prefers, and Curtis has a third idea of his own.
He suggests attaching a new arena with 7,000 seats to the Rhodes Arena and converting the existing space into two practice gyms.
“Having a totally new facility is even more exciting, and whether it’s on Spicer Street or downtown, a new arena is a new arena,” Curtis said. “I could go for any of the three solutions.”
Another key Sasaki suggestion is to create an “Academic Way” down the spine of the campus in what once was Buchtel Avenue.
The wide sidewalk would have trees, seating and possibly a shuttle to move pedestrians one mile from the East Parking Deck through campus to the Polsky Parking Deck downtown.
Special high-intensity lighting and signage would emphasize that this is the main corridor. The rest of campus also would get new signage and lighting. Many major academic buildings already front on what would be the Academic Way.
Sasaki also would:
• Build a glass atrium on the south side of Bierce Library for dining, conversation areas and computers. The addition would add light to the library and face the new Academic Way.
• Level Schrank Hall South, which is in need of multiple repairs, to make way for more green space.
• Convert the Knight Chemical Laboratory and Goodyear Polymer Center into classrooms, offices and dry labs and build a new tower to replace them on the west side of the North Parking Deck.
• Build a medium-sized recital space with about 500 seats and glass walls on what is now a concrete plaza and fountain in front of E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
• Rebuild the McDowell Law Center on its current site at Wolf Ledges Parkway and University Avenue.
• Remodel Ayers and Crouse halls with new lighting, air conditioning, windows and more. A third academic building, Zook Hall, already is poised for renovation.
The university is using $16 million of state money to gut Zook and modernize it for the College of Education. Construction will begin in a year and take about a year to complete.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.