Hannah Eason, Contributing Writer
The recently passed ONE VCU Master Plan will guide the development of VCU and VCU Health as the entities expand their sizes and influence. The plan’s key highlights include connecting the two campuses by streetscape and to establish new “front doors” for VCU.
The plan produces a unified vision for all VCU properties and aligns with the university’s existing plans, “Quest 2025: Together We Transform” — which addresses the rising cost of higher education and the school’s goal of national prominence — and VCU Health’s “Vision by Design,” which aims for top-level research, education and health care. The Board of Visitors approved the ONE VCU Master Plan March 22.
“The ONE VCU plan has been committed to providing an open, thoughtful, transparent and inclusive master planning process,” said Jeff Eastman, university planner. “Between fall 2017 and last week we held over 176 meetings, which ranged from public open houses — that drew in hundreds of individuals from the VCU and Richmond community — to one-on-one interviews with deans and senior leadership.”
Campus front doors and unification
Reimagining the campus’ “front doors” is a main priority for the master plan. It states that having one entrance for the Monroe Park and MCV campuses will improve first impressions and create a better arrival experience for prospective students.
“Unfortunately, many of VCU’s front doors, open spaces and streetscapes are poorly defined and inconsistent in quality, with 24 percent of the overall campus open space being in poor or below-average condition,” the plan states.
Two streetscapes will be established between MCV and Monroe Park, extending down West Broad and Franklin streets.
“Streetscape projects are site-specific, but there are several techniques that VCU has been employing in recent years that should be recognizable: brick sidewalks, street trees and pedestrian-scaled lights spaced at regular intervals,” Eastman said. “Most of the sidewalks on campus belong to the city of Richmond, so we work with them and need their approval on what the final design is.”
Monroe Park Campus renovations
The plan will include the demolition of the University Student Commons and T. Edward Temple Building to provide room for a new green space.
The new Commons will replace the Thalhimer Tennis Center, located adjacent to Cary Street Gym.
The current University Student Commons, which the Master Plan calls “undersized,” will be demolished once construction of the new facility is complete. The tennis center will be relocated.
Additional instructional labs are the highest priority for the College of Humanities and Sciences in the Master Plan. Not only does the plan state that more labs are needed, but the existing ones in Oliver Hall’s Physical Science Wing need “major” renovation.
“The existing labs require modernization and can be renovated or relocated to the new interdisciplinary classroom and lab building,” the plan states. “If they are relocated, the Oliver Hall site is ideal for interdisciplinary teaching, learning and student space.”
Demolition of the Franklin Street Gym will make way for a new STEM teaching facility on Franklin Street, which was included in the 2019-2020 budget. The facility includes instructional labs and classrooms for several subjects including chemistry, math and physics.
A turf field is proposed on the top of the West Main Street Parking Deck to provide “additional outdoor recreational space.” The turf will supplement facilities like Cary Street Gym and Larrick Student Center.
“Providing field space on an urban campus is difficult as it competes with priorities for buildings,” Eastman said. “Providing a field atop the parking deck is an innovative solution to this challenge.”
VCU’s Welcome Center, currently located on West Broad Street, will be relocated to the Singleton Center under the plan.
A new arts and innovative hub — to serve as an exhibit space for students — will be built at the corner of Belvidere and West Broad streets, connecting VCUarts to Richmond’s Arts District.
The Undergraduate Housing Demand and Market Study — used to prioritize changes included in the Master Plan — found there is a demand for an additional 700 to 1,000 beds on campus. The residence halls included in the Master Plan address the Monroe Park housing demand.
One of the first housing projects will “likely” replace the Honors College at 700 W. Grace St. The Master Plan states the site will include approximately 470 beds and an “active ground floor.” The plan doesn’t offer additional specifics.
Other prospective housing sites include “wrapping” the West Main Street Parking Deck. This architectural style, often referred to as “doughnut construction,” consists of residential housing built surrounding an existing parking deck like a doughnut. Space in the Facilities and Financial Services Building would make way for the new residence hall. The plan doesn’t specify a new location for Facilities and Financial Services.
Revitalizing historic Franklin Street is also a priority. The plan includes modernizing the buildings while “preserving historic character.” The goal is to convert the buildings into faculty and student residences.
The Master Plan would improve mobility and safety for VCU Health patients and families. After The downtown campus’ facilities and parking displayed the most urgent need during a review.
The plan recommends the renovation of the West Hospital for housing and office space, while enhancing the Children’s Hospital and Massey Cancer Center with new state-of-the-art facilities.
To address MCV’s rapid growth, the Master Plan adds 2,700 parking spaces. A majority of these spaces are designated for patient and visitor parking. The addition of four parking decks to the MCV Campus will increase the number of spaces from 980 to 3,100.
To tackle parking scarcity, the plan will also include incentives for VCU and VCU Health employees to ride the bus, carpool, walk or bike to work. There will be a website dedicated to consolidating the transportation resources offered by VCU, VCU Health, Richmond and the Greater Richmond Transit Company.
To make this transportation more feasible, the plan seeks to reduce “redundant” bus lines, enhance streetscapes to create walkable environments and continue to create bike lanes between the two campuses.
Ayers Saint Gross, the Baltimore-based architecture firm the university hired to manage the process, began developing the Master Plan in 2017. The firm has developed master plans for large universities including Texas A&M, Wake Forest and Purdue. It also developed the VCU Housing master plan and the construction of the new Gladding Residence Center, which was finished this summer.