Entering the design phase of the new Master Plan “ONE VCU”, the university is outlining the future of its impending physical impact on the city.
“Now we’re actually starting to look at ‘okay, here are programs that need space, and here are areas of the campus that are underdeveloped or could be redeveloped,’” Eastman said. “We start to essentially move the pieces around and see what fits.”
The master site plan process, which began in October 2017, is scheduled for approval by the Board of Visitors in December of this year.
The university hired a firm, Ayers Saint Gross, to develop and manage the university’s master planning process. Prior to the design process, the university conducted studies and surveys regarding what should be taken into consideration during the plan’s development. From listening sessions, interviews with university leadership, student groups and public meetings, they gathered “themes.”
“Because we know we’re integrated into the city, there are also a lot of city plans, some of them transportation, that impact the university. So we have to take those into account as well,” Eastman said. “And I should also say, we impact the city as well.”
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, VCU’s investments in capital assets, such as land, buildings and equipment, grew by 8 percent last year, and has more than doubled since 2007. The university’s wealth from assets grew from $609.3 million in 2007 to $1.1 billion by the end of June last year.
The university’s last master plan, approved in 2013, laid the foundation for nearly finished projects around the city.
Gladding Residence Center
The new $96 million student housing facility, which is being constructed across from Monroe Park, is opening in the fall of this year, after only announcing the project in March 2016. While VCU owns the land, American Campus Communities, a private developer, is paying for its’ construction. The building is expected to house just shy of 1,500 students.
The School of Allied Health Professions
The academic building is ahead of schedule and will be finished this summer. The $87.7 million building will bring together 11 programs, including nine academic departments, the dean’s office and the Virginia Center on Aging.
Engineering Research Building
The $92 million research addition to the School of Engineering on the corner of West Cary and South Belvidere Streets will be finished in 2020. Construction began in 2015.
Institute for Contemporary Art
VCU managed the design and construction of the new Institute for Contemporary Art, which opened Saturday. The project cost $42 million and started in 2011, a part of the master plan set forth in 2004. Sitting on the corner of Belvidere and Broad streets, the 41,000-square-foot project was completed following a $37 million capital campaign and $12 million endowment campaign by VCU. The ICA is currently free and open to the public.
Virginia Treatment Center for Children
Opening this month, the $56 million, 32-bed inpatient facility on the North Side will provide psychiatric aid to children, replacing the one on the MCV campus.
STEM Education Building
The university is awaiting state funds to begin construction on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Teaching Laboratory building for the College of Humanities and Sciences. The building is set to take the place of the Franklin Street Gym and include three four-story historic townhomes.
VCU receives most of its’ funding for implementation of projects from the state. It has a six-year capital request plan that sets forth priorities in each biennium. University officials submit requests in odd-number years, so requests from May last year were for projects planned for 2018.
Besides state funding, there are a limited number of sources traditionally available for capital projects, which include gifts, grants and university funds. University funds can come from a variety of resources, such as increases in student tuition or fees.
The university may also choose to take on debt. If it’s a housing project, the debt service might be paid by revenue from students who are paying rent to live in the housing.
Because the university wants to include the projects proposed in the current master plan for the next six-year funding request, the final draft of the plan has to be completed in December. When the master plan is released, it will include a prioritized list of projects for each campus, which will be used as a guide to develop their request in the Spring of 2019.
Impact on Community
Some people have raised concerns about the impact the university’s expansion could have on the Richmond community. According to Eastman, the university meets with the planning committee for the City of Richmond Master Plan, local civic associations and the Office of Community Engagement, to address what is best for the university and the community.
“We know VCU has a big footprint in the city, we know we have an impact on the city and we’re impacted by the city so we want to try to work together collaboratively to figure out what’s best for the city and the citizens,” Eastman said. “We’ve been very deliberate in working with folks so we’re keeping an open dialogue.”
Young Democratic Socialists at VCU have made it a semester-long initiative to address the university’s expansion plans and the ethical impact they may have on the city.
“Everytime VCU buys another building, or every time they expand out and buy new property, that’s property tax that’s not going to the city,” said YDSA Head Chair Nicholas Da Silva. “Housing that residents of Richmond can’t use that’s a piece of Richmond that no longer belongs to Richmond.”
University Architect Mary Patton Cox said the school’s planners are having conversations about the university’s ability to influence the development of local neighborhoods. During community outreach, they hope to determine areas of the city where both the community and university could both benefit from VCU’s expansion.
Da Silva said YDSA tries to keep track of the university’s purchasing and expansion habits to keep the student body informed.
“We’re kind of reaching the point where we want the administration to talk to us, but we recognize they don’t really agree with us, and so we’re trying to raise awareness to other students,” Da Silva said. “So hopefully we can give a balanced point of view, so it’s not just the university saying we need to expand.”
Patton Cox said VCU’s campus is unique because of its placement in the center of a city, which means its expansion is largely determined by real estate opportunities.
The university often has to choose between expanding or staying in its property lines and increasing the density of the campus, which can have negative impacts as well.
“We do care about things like gentrification, we do try to limit our impact in that direction but the only things we could really do to completely prevent it is stay within the existing property lines and sometimes doing that is a good idea,” Patton Cox said. “So we just try to balance the decision making against the impacts.”
The Master Plan, “ONE VCU,” is intended to be transformational, according to Patton Cox. Although there are elements from the previous master plan the university intends to build on. The planners want a fresh look and to reflect the university’s new strategic plan, Quest 2025: Together We Transform, which embodies student success, appropriate teaching, learning, study and living spaces, interdisciplinary collaboration, and mobility and safety.
It ultimately seeks to unify the campus and take advantage of the university’s setting in an urban community.
“When you go from plan to plan or you’re even five years into a plan, priorities change,” Patton Cox said. “A master plan is just that — it’s a vision of the future. It’s not necessarily engraved in stone, but its built on a good solid basis.”
SaraRose Martin, News Editor