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September 1, 1994

Pitt master space plan nearing completion

Pitt master space plan nearing completion

The master space plan governing the next five, 10 and 20 years of construction and space development at Pitt is nearing completion and will soon be released to the public.

Developed by Senate Council's plant utilization and planning committee (PUP), the plan will be published as an insert in the Sept. 15 issue of the University Times and presented to Pittsburgh's City Planning Commission in October.

The deadline for the plan to be submitted to the Planning Commission is Oct. 1. Following the plan's release, there will be opportunities for the public to comment on it and for changes to be made until a final document acceptable to all interested parties is developed, according to Associate Director of Facilities Planning Deborah Rouse, who has been preparing the plan for PUP.

"I am calling it the final submission, what will be in the University Times, but the city and the University community must still comment and there will be changes," Rouse said, adding, "This is the place where dialogue begins." Work on a master space plan, which involves new construction and is separate from renovation work, already had been underway for several years, when, in July 1992, the city Planning Commission told the University it had to agree to complete a plan by May 1, 1994, before the Planning Commission would issue a certificate of occupancy for Sutherland Hall.

In March, the Oakland Agreement Committee (OAC) sought and received an extension of the deadline to Oct. 1.

Composed of representatives from Oakland's neighborhoods, community organizations, the city, the University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the OAC requested the extension in order to obtain more input on issues involving the University and surrounding neighborhoods.

The OAC was formed in the fall of 1993 to negotiate a written agreement with Pitt on issues beyond the parameters of the master space plan, such as boundaries, employment and neighborhood revitalization.

According to Rouse, all institutions are required by the city to file a master space plan with the Planning Commission. The purpose of a master plan is to give the city an idea of the future needs of areas adjacent to institutions when it undertakes public works projects, such as street and sewer improvements.

Another reason for the plan is that universities traditionally have an architectural vision of what their campus will look like in the future and in what directions it will grow. For schools where large amounts of open land are available, such as Penn State and the University of Virginia, developing a master space plan is a relatively simple matter compared to an urban university like Pitt. "We don't have that kind of land base," Rouse noted. "And the land base that we do have has certain constraints because of slopes and because of subsurface conditions, such as subsurface mining and weak soils, in some locations high bedrock areas. It is all a constraint on how we build." When such a physical bind is combined with the uncertainty of the economy and future enrollment, as well as the fact that the city is working on a new zoning code that could change the use of some areas, creating a master space plan for Pitt has been a very difficult assignment.

"What we have here are the duel challenges of not knowing exactly what enrollments are going to be and what those people are going to be interested in studying and researching to the level of real specificity that we like to have with buildings and the fact that we only have limited space to work in," Rouse said.

In the short-range, the master space plan developed by PUP concentrates on ways to take advantage of the opportunities presented by Operation Jump Start to make a more cohesive campus.

"Over the next five years," Rouse said, "we'll be looking at the addition to Hillman Library, the Children and Youth Center at WPIC, the convocation center, the new multi-purpose academic complex, Bellefield Hall and the Masonic Temple renovation." Although those are the projects PUP decided to concentrate on in the short term, Rouse said that there are no guarantees that all of the projects will be completed or even started during the first five years. She pointed out that private funds will be needed to undertake some of the projects and there is no way of knowing how much private money will be raised.

At the end of five years, she said, there might be only three or four of the projects completed. On the other hand, she added, if fund raising goes well and there are no other problems all of the projects could be finished in three years.

In the mid-range, the plan focuses on the expansion of campus housing. A study on campus housing has indicated that probably 1,000 more beds will be needed within the next 10 years. Rouse said the expansion will be done incrementally so that there will be no excess building.

"We don't know right now exactly how many beds we'll need," she explained. "It could be that we do 200 and we don't need any more. It could be that we get all of the way up to 1,000 and find that there is a demand for it. But that is our notion right now, to expand housing in increments in the mid-range plan." The mid-range portion of the plan also will focus on ways to effectively use space vacated when departments move from one building to another.

Over the long-range, 20 years, the master space plan concentrates on small places where the University might be able to expand, as well as ways to replace obsolete facilities and places to move people during renovations.

Areas that figure in the long-range plan include various hillside spaces, Bouquet Street in the area of Forbes Quadrangle, and in-fill sites such as the area above Gardner Steel Conference Center and Benedum Hall's plaza.

"It is just taking a look at those types of small area sites that may be available, what we can do with them and how we can make them work," Rouse explained.

Rouse was uncertain what sort of timeline might be involved before the plan is accepted by the city. She estimated, however, that the city, University community and general public probably will "be looking at it through the fall." It appears likely, too, that the short-range portion of the master space plan will be finalized and accepted by the city this fall.

Under a conditional use requirement attached to the master space plan process by the city, the University must at least complete and have accepted by the Planning Commission the five-year portion of the plan before it can undertake a major construction project.

Since Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic is scheduled to begin work on its Children and Youth Center this winter, Pitt will have to produce a final short-range plan before work can start.

"That is a stimulus for everybody to work very, very intensively together to look at the five-year plan and hammer that out," said Rouse.

Before another major construction effort after WPIC's Children and Youth Center can be undertaken, Pitt must have the 10-year portion of the plan accepted. The 20-year portion must be accepted before construction of a third building can begin.

"There are a lot of constituents and it's a very, very, very participatory process, so you have to learn to be very flexible with this," said Rouse. "We are saying, 'Okay, this is where we stand right now. Take a look at it, let's come back, let's revise it, let's change it and see where we go next.' "It is more an evolutionary process than lines drawn in the sand," Rouse added.

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 1

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