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Mount plans future growth and improvements

Richard Fulton
Emmitsburg Dispatch

(11/20) Mount St. Mary's University, the second oldest independent Catholic university in the country, has begun to implement changes spawned by the development of a campus master plan.

Greg Kniesler, director of Mount St. Mary's Engineering and Capital Projects, recently told The Dispatch the university is not looking at a dramatic increase in students over the next decade, but is looking to celebrate the university's bicentennial, improve the functionality of already-existing campus resources, and plan for new structures that would enhance the campus community.

In addition, whatever changes may take place, university President Thomas H. Powell has stipulated that changes must promulgate the Catholic identity and mission throughout the campus.

Development of the master plan

The Mount began working on its master plan in 2004, contracting with Ayers/Saint/Gross, a Baltimore firm that provides master planning and architectural services for college and university campuses.

The entire master plan process, completed June 2005, cost the university less than $100,000, according to Kniesler.

According to the report prepared by Ayers/Saint/Gross, the plan developers faced a number of challenging issues from the outset, including:

  • Many of the existing buildings were old and in need of maintenance;
  • Walkways and parking areas had not been well-placed or thought out;
  • Vistas between buildings were so great it created the illusion of increased walking distances;
  • Pedestrian and vehicular traffic is sometimes mixed without clarity;
  • There are no standards for things like lighting, seating, trashcans and other universal utilities;
  • The architecture between buildings did not always match;
  • The campus is separated by U.S. 15;
  • There is no real main entrance to the university.

In addition, the planners were asked to "identify building sites for the future" within walking distance of the existing campus, both for potential campus structures and expanded parking areas, according to Kniesler.

To address objectives and the perceived existing deficiencies, the consulting firm developed a strategy that included six general goals:

  • Ensure that the Catholic identity and mission is reflected throughout the campus.
  • Address the landscape and pedestrian experience.
  • Address entrances and gateways.
  • Construct the Founder's Plaza.
  • Improve residential life (housing and related).
  • Develop a high-quality athletic atmosphere.

Plan implementation

The six main goals listed are not in sequential order. Work on some of them will occur simultaneously; and achieving others may take multiple years. One of them, ensuring that the Catholic identity and mission is reflected throughout the campus, will be woven throughout the creation process.

Also, the entire master plan is not written in stone. It was developed to provide direction, not provide a definitive set of instructions. It allows for flexibility.

For example, a conceptual sketch showing a pedestrian crossover spanning U.S. 15 from the athletic facilities to the academic campus will probably not be pursued. However, it is at least on the "wish list."

Some of the proposed projects are already underway. Work on the new Waldron Family Stadium and the E.T. Straw Baseball Stadium is nearing completion. Work on the Founders Plaza, part of the Mount's bicentennial projects and considered the first project undertaken under the master plan, has progressed significantly since the groundbreaking ceremony on June 22.

The next major undertaking as part of the master plan is the construction of the new "Bicentennial Hall" on Annandale Road, a residence hall that will house more than 180 students. The university is awaiting permits from Frederick County to begin work.

The Mount will also be looking at ways to reconfigure the cement walkways that seem to form a mini airport-looking web across some of the campus grounds, possibly incorporating a fountain as a hub of any new pathway system.

In the less-immediate future…

On the mountainside behind the campus lies the seemingly isolated Grotto, university property that the staff would like to tie-in better with the campus. A new, small museum/visitor center at the Grotto is planned for 2008.

The campus has grown somewhat naturally over the decades into two separate sub-campuses, an academic one on the west side of U.S. 15 and an athletic one on the east side. The master plan calls for the continuance of and expansion on that divide.

Areas identified in the master plan could house future academic-related structures. Included would be several buildings on the west side of U.S. 15, a potential building next to the existing service barn, and expanding on the Flynn Hall performing arts building.

A "key building site" has also been identified adjacent to U.S. 15 behind the William J. McGowan Center, Kniesler stated. The site is located "on a knoll with a great view."

On the west side of U.S. 15, future development could include a number of residences for university staff and expanded sports complex-related structures.

The plan, as conceived, covers a ten-year period, possibly longer, depending on progress and funding. Kniesler said, "We are still assessing how much we want to do. We may not do it (all) as described in the plan."

Additionally, because the plan is flexible and could change, there is no real projected bottom line cost for total implementation. "We have no idea of the cost of implementing the entire plan," Kniesler told The Dispatch. "What the plan does is it gives us a framework to move a lot of individual projects forward (with one vision)."

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