For more than a year, American University has been working on its next 10-year facilities plan, which is required by the D.C. government of all local colleges and universities. Following community discussion, the plan will be filed with the D.C. Zoning Commission at the end of this year for a formal review, public hearings, and approval. Our current plan expires in August 2011.
I’d like to offer a general overview of the campus plan as it is currently evolving and the facilities priorities linked to our strategic plan; the process underway; the potential impact on the university and the local community; and what’s to come. All materials regarding the development of the 2011 campus plan and presentations made at community meetings are available on the campus plan Web site, www.american.edu/finance/fas/Campus-Plan.cfm.
Campus Plan Priorities and Process
The 2011 campus plan is a “roadmap” that details the facilities objectives and building proposals needed to enhance our campus over the next decade. The process of drafting a new plan began with the approval of our strategic plan by the Board of Trustees in 2009; a review of the current (2001) campus plan priorities and accomplishments; an assessment of possible building sites and matching those sites with current priorities; and an ongoing discussion with neighbors and other stakeholders of the building priorities, sites, mitigation strategies, and concerns. Discussions regarding key elements of the plan will continue throughout this fall and are subject to revision until we draft the final plan and submit it to the D.C. Zoning Commission at the end of the year.
As we look to the future and work to continuously improve AU’s academic standing and reputation, our key strategic objectives are to sustain an unsurpassed undergraduate experience; provide a stronger on-campus experience for all of our students; support the scholar-teacher ideal and distinction in our graduate, professional, and legal studies; engage our alumni; reflect our commitment to social responsibility, service, and diversity; and connect AU to D.C. and the world.
The facilities goals are to offer attractive student housing to bring more of our undergraduate students to live on campus; create recreation, dining, athletics, and activity space to support our students; build a new home for the Washington College of Law at the Tenley Campus near the Metro and a major transportation corridor; provide for additional faculty office, research, and related spaces; improve science facilities and instructional space; and build additional athletics facilities, an admissions welcome center, and an alumni center.
A key component is student housing—to accommodate our existing and anticipated student demand during the next 10 years. We have stated consistently that our primary objective is to house students “already here” and to have contemporary housing that meets the needs of students and parents. The last major housing project (Centennial Hall) is some 25 years old, and it is essential to improve AU’s housing to better connect students to campus life and attract the best and brightest prospective students. AU is required by the D.C. Zoning Commission to provide housing for 85 percent of freshmen and sophomores and two-thirds of our undergraduates—a requirement we can meet now only through tripling rooms, housing 200 students in the Berkshire Apartments under an AU lease, and housing close to 500 students on the Tenley Campus in residence halls that will be removed as part of the planning to move the law school there.
All totaled, we calculate our need to be 1,407 net new beds—raising our housing capacity from 3,533 to 4,940 beds. While this may seem like a lot of “new capacity,” close to 1,000 are students “already here” in triple rooms, AU leases in the Berkshire Apartments, and on the Tenley campus; the remaining amount reflects a modest 10-year undergraduate population increase and accommodates demand from students now living off-campus in the surrounding neighborhoods and apartments, as we bring these students back to campus.
Key to resolving this need is the eight-acre, residentially zoned Nebraska Avenue parking lot, which we seek to develop as a new East Campus (860 beds) to be landscaped and built “green,” with a design aesthetic consistent with main campus. Potentially, this parcel could be home to both the alumni and welcome centers and feature such amenities as street-level retail space for use by the university and surrounding communities.
Responding to community concerns, we have sought other sites to “spread out” our student housing and additional locations are being considered. This includes Nebraska Hall (120 beds) adjacent to the Katzen Arts Center; three proposed residence halls on the South Campus (670 beds) adjacent to Letts-Anderson, where Public Safety, Financial Aid, and Admissions are now; and two proposed residence halls on the Clark site (370 beds), east and adjacent to the Letts-Anderson buildings.
We are discussing with surrounding community members what our proposals mean in terms of bringing change to campus. We are confident we can mitigate impacts appropriately, as our record indicates that we have done in recent decades. Key to this is creating a better understanding of what twenty-first-century student housing is and isn’t—so that our discussions are based on reality and not on misperception or unfounded fears.
AU has employed the architectural firm Little Diversified, Inc., for the East Campus and Nebraska Hall designs, which we are sharing with the community as it evolves. Their plans and renderings are also accessible through the campus plan Web site.
Traffic and Other Impacts
Another part of our planning deals with traffic, transportation, and pedestrians—the current and projected patterns, AU’s role in the total traffic volume, and whether our potential new buildings might have an adverse effect on local traffic patterns. There is an overarching community concern with the area’s total traffic volume and patterns caused by commuters heading to downtown Washington and other nearby work places (Homeland Security) whose future planning is not subject to the same scrutiny as are campus plans.
To help assess AU’s role, we contracted with the Gorove Slade transportation and traffic consultants to review past patterns, examine current trends, and make future projections based on the potential patterns that our new facilities might bring. Gorove Slade estimated that AU’s current (2008) portion of traffic is 4 percent of the morning peak and 11 percent of the evening peak—contrasted with 7 percent morning and 13 percent evening in 2000. In synch with this analysis, there were 21 percent fewer cars on campus in 2008 compared with 2000 on a typical weekday, and shuttle bus ridership has climbed from 1.2 million riders in 2000 to to 1.8 million riders in 2008. The firm’s initial findings indicate that potential pedestrian and traffic patterns created by East Campus student housing will not differ from those of the parcel’s current use as a 900-space parking lot.
We will continue to discuss these important traffic and transportation issues with the campus and surrounding community.
Mitigation Efforts and Community Dynamic
Given AU’s proximity to the local neighborhood, the community has concerns about our building proposals, the sites selected, and how it may affect their lives. We will work to assuage such concerns and encourage all to examine our current campus design and aesthetic as an indication of how we manage our appearance and activities. We have made a concerted effort to make this campus plan process a participatory one that indicates the evolutionary nature of planning by sharing priorities, sites, concepts, and designs as they evolve. Since the outset of the campus plan process in July 2009, we have held almost monthly meetings with a community campus plan task force and periodic meetings with neighbors and community groups upon request, and we’ve met with D.C. government officials. When possible, we have incorporated our neighbors’ feedback and suggestions into our plan. For example, when neighborhood concerns were voiced about the East Campus as a site for students, we reduced the number of students to be housed there by more than 200, identified three other campus sites for additional student housing, and offered to maintain a landscaped buffer of 80 feet or more as a green separation between the new buildings and the neighboring townhomes.
We know there is still work to be done, however, as some neighbors have asserted that no matter what, student housing and AU students are not welcome on the Nebraska Avenue lot. We profoundly disagree with this stance and believe such an inflexible position will hinder the ability to find amenable solutions. It should be noted that for years AU students have lived in residence halls adjacent to local neighborhoods—on the Tenley Campus and in Nebraska Hall—with no deleterious impact. And our current emphasis on student housing is centered on “bringing students back to campus” and out of the surrounding neighborhoods.
AU has a long-established history of ensuring that our campus is an asset to our neighbors. In the past decade alone, we have improved the campus’s beauty and achieved designation as an arboretum; built the Katzen Arts Center as a vibrant cultural addition to northwest Washington; opened a LEED Gold home for the School of International Service; created a dignified addition to the Kogod School of Business with a landscaped entrance overlooking Massachusetts Avenue; and established a wooded separation between campus and University Avenue.
We plan to continue our legacy of consideration to the community and will make our best efforts to solicit our neighbors’ input and good will to a plan we can all support. To move these efforts forward, we have engaged a facilitator to help the discussion flow between AU and the community during our task force discussions.
Next Steps and What You Can Do
When completed, the campus plan will be submitted to the D.C. Zoning Commission later this year. We intend to file one plan which includes the main campus and Tenley Campus and with two projects (East Campus and Nebraska Hall addition) submitted for further processing.
Preceding that, we will discuss the plan at public meetings of both ANC 3D and ANC 3E at times to be determined. Following a thorough review and hearings by the Zoning Commission, the newly approved campus plan would go into effect next year.
In the weeks to come, there will be public meetings, hearings, news articles, blog commentary, and informal gatherings at which our campus plan will be discussed. I encourage everyone—faculty, staff, students, and alumni—to visit the campus plan Web site often to stay informed of all our exciting building proposals as the plan develops. We also welcome ideas that benefit both campus and community and are looking for ambassadors to help foster discussion about the plan within the university and our local community.
AU's strategic plan, Leadership for a Changing World, outlines goals and objectives for the next decade at American University. Visit american.edu/strategicplan for more information. (myAU.american.edu login required for some documents)