In the 90 years since the University of Utah's first building boom, the enclave of 13 buildings has sprawled into a 1,400-acre network of classroom buildings, parking lots, labs, medical facilities, offices and arenas, while the student population has grown 11-fold.
Gone are the days when the university president grazed his cattle on campus lawns and school-owned cows kept the dining halls in milk.
While campus expansion has put the U. at the forefront of scientific research and cultural life, growth has come at a cost. Past U. planners were more interested in accommodating automobiles than pedestrians and as a result, the U. setting is less lively than most major university campuses.
"Our campus is huge. It's just not walkable," says Randy Dryer, who helped lead efforts to reconceive the campus as chairman of the U.'s Board of Trustees. "The concept now is to make little pockets that are more concentrated and dense. That will bring people together, as opposed to this sprawl."
Trustees today are expected to approve a comprehensive 20-year plan to drive campus growth in a new direction - back toward its historic core. The document, two years in the making, will focus future construction in the campus heart, connecting it to peripheral TRAX stations with features designed for pedestrians rather than the asphalt lagoons that now surround these crucial transit nodes.
"The thought is to make campus more dense, so it has a greater sense of intensity, more cohesion to make it more pedestrian friendly," Dryer says. "It's designed to develop a greater sense of community and concentrate human interaction."
Although future enrollment is not expected to grow much in the near term, another building boom is on the horizon, with at least 40 new buildings anticipated for the U.'s main campus over the next 20 years. They will add 3.8 million square feet of new space and require demolition of nearly 400,000 square feet in 16 obsolete buildings, such as the Madsen and Garff business buildings and the law library. The health science complex, meanwhile, is undergoing a major makeover that includes replacing the School of Medicine building.
The plan's chief goals are to make the campus a destination for the larger public and a center of student life, foster an interdisciplinary approach to academics, and leverage the U.'s natural setting at the base of the Wasatch foothills while demonstrating environmental stewardship.
To those ends, planners want to capitalize on existing infrastructure, cluster classroom buildings, and integrate the campus with its four TRAX stations. They are advancing mixed-use developments at the Stadium and South Campus light-rail stops to enhance the experience of transit riders as they enter campus.
Planners hope to get people out of their cars by making it easier for them to get to and around campus without them.
"There will be more use of shuttles, and less individual use of cars," Dryer says. "We will continue to be a commuter school. The plan anticipates an increase of the resident population, but also encourages nonresident students to spend more time on campus."
Currently, about 10 percent of the U.'s 28,000 students live on campus. The master plan calls for razing the Annex, the "temporary" structures east of the Huntsman Center, and replacing it with a six-building student housing complex. Currently, 36 percent of those coming to campus use alternative transportation, with daily TRAX ridership at about 11,500 a day, according to Norm Chambers, the university's vice president of auxiliary services.
"The trend is to have fewer surface parking spaces on campus," Chambers says. "Mass transit is the most cost-effective way to replace lost parking."
Other flagship schools have created dynamic public spaces on compact campuses that all but force students, faculty and staff to interact. The University of California, for example, accommodates more students on its 160-acre Berkeley campus than the U. handles on its main campus with twice the space.
"And yet you don't feel confined [at Berkeley]," says U. planning chief Mike Perez, the central architect of the master plan.
"You find vibrancy, pockets of energy resulting from density. It's successful when it's managed well."
The new document overrides plans made before President Michael Young began his tenure in 2004, when planners targeted the 36-acre golf course on the northeast corner of the main campus for intensive development. The nine-hole course will find a new purpose under the new plan, but much will remain recreational open space.
However, the plan carves out a chunk of the course for the proposed Interdisciplinary Mall - the new home for the Utah Science, Technology and Research Initiative - strategically situated between existing health science and engineering complexes.
"We're really opening that space to more people and retaining green space," Dryer says.