University News

Report focuses on community integration

Strategic plan proposes departmental collaboration and improved facilities

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2013
This article is part of the series Planning in Progress

The Committee on Reimagining the Campus and Community stressed ideas regarding the creation of shared, collaborative spaces between departments, renovations to existing classrooms, further expansion into the Jewelry District and the construction of several new facilities in its interim report released Friday.

Like the other committees, the Committee on Reimagining the Campus and Community has collected community feedback from faculty members, staff members and students through focus groups and additional outreach.

“We started with an overview of the development of the campus, thinking about the growth and patterns and how the campus interacts with the city and surrounding neighborhood,” said Russell Carey, committee chair and executive vice president for planning and policy.

Many of the preliminary recommendations in the report featured the idea of shared spaces in which complementary departments could engage in intellectual collaboration. The report proposed the creation of an interdisciplinary building housing several social science or humanities departments, which would free up the buildings currently occupied by those departments for other purposes.

The committee also proposed a common community space and more work space for graduate students, citing the space in the Metcalf Chemistry and Research Laboratory for Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences graduate students as an ideal example of avoiding the relegation of graduate students to basements or attics.

The committee consulted design firms Sasaki Associates and Payette to gather data to help strategically rework the infrastructure of the campus.

Sasaki will be launching an interactive online survey called MyCampus, which will be available to all students, faculty and staff members with an interactive map of Brown and its surrounding community. Participants will be able to tag the map with various icons to mark where they live, study and park, among other things, to help Sasaki discern how members of the community travel around campus. The study is expected to reveal how most people use the campus, therefore highlighting common areas of travel that require lighting attention, among other improvements.

Sasaki has already successfully used MyCampus at several campuses, reorienting construction improvements around what students and faculty members actually needed, Carey said.

A desire for flexible teaching spaces that could be used for many different purposes emerged as a major theme during committee discussion and faculty input, Carey said.

The University’s current classrooms fall all across the spectrum of flexibility. Recently renovated classrooms feature projector technology separate from a blackboard or whiteboard and allow for furniture to be rearranged for different teaching styles and activities, Carey said, features that are especially necessary in language classrooms. Older classrooms, especially those in old homes that have been converted to teaching spaces, often employ the room’s writing surface as a projector screen and hinder furniture movement.

The report recommended creating new research laboratory spaces in social science departments and the construction of at least one major new science research building, alongside extensive renovations of current research facilities. Physical and life sciences departments should have “social and convening spaces near laboratory facilities, where faculty and students can gather informally over food and drink (not allowed in laboratories),” according to the report.

The committee sketched out preliminary plans for locating University facilities in the Jewelry District for instructional, administrative, research or even residential purposes. The Jewelry District, which includes land made available by the relocation of I-195, is currently home to the Alpert Medical School and the center of Providence and University officials’ goals to build a “knowledge economy” centered around science and technology research and entrepreneurship.

“We had to reimagine our place in the Jewelry District, which is very much up in the air,” said Iris Bahar, committee co-chair and professor of engineering. Faculty feedback “will guide that and figure out how best to take advantage of the new land available in the Jewelry District and how we can build up on the already significant commitment we have there.”

The Jewelry District currently houses medical and graduate student instruction spaces. “We’re trying to figure out what would be an appropriate next place to expand there, and how we can do that in a way that still keeps the tight-knit community of Brown intact,” Bahar said.

The committee proposed possibly creating a cultural center in the Jewelry District to house the orchestra as well as foster a better relationship between the University and the city.

The University lacks a suitable performance space for its orchestra, according to the report. The orchestra currently performs in Sayles Hall but practices in Alumnae Hall, meaning most students must transport their instruments across campus for each practice.

“I see no reason why it couldn’t work,” said Director of Orchestras and Chamber Music Paul Phillips of the proposal. “We have a relatively small campus compared to some of the enormous universities across the country … but it all depends on transportation.” He noted the potential for such a space to be used by all of the University’s performance and musical groups as well as guest speakers and other events.

The report stressed that any recommendations for the Jewelry District beyond the preliminary suggestions would require more planning on connectivity and comprehensive transportation.