Master plan seeks facility improvements on campus

In early January, Mason’s Office of Facilities began working on the master plan, an 18 month long project that is focused on improving Mason’s physical infrastructure on all of its campuses.

The formation of the master plan follows the approval of Mason’s strategic plan, which was adopted by the university in late October of 2013.

“[The master plan is] a road map to our future development on all of our campuses,” said Cathy Wolfe, Director of Campus Planning. “What we’re trying to do now is understand how you translate that strategic plan into a physical master plan,” Wolfe said.

According to Wolfe, the Commonwealth of Virginia likes universities to create a master plan every 10 years. Mason’s latest master plan was created in 2002, leaving the university about two years behind in their schedule. Wolfe attributed this to President Cabrera’s arrival in 2012 and wanting to wait for a new president’s input on the master plan.

The plan is then proposed and adopted by the Board of Visitors. From there, according to Vice President of Facilities, Tom Calhoun, the university makes capital funding requests from the state when they want to start on major projects.

The master plan has five phases: Discovery and Data Collection, Information Gathering and Communications, Conceptual Development, Preferred Direction and Guidelines and Documentation. The planning process for the master plan began in Winter 2014 and is expected to be completed in Spring 2015.

Currently, Mason is somewhere in between the first two phases. According to Wolfe, data is still being collected through interviews with various committees and offices on campus and Mason faculty is about to receive a survey on collaboration across disciplines to help facilitate these multidisciplinary initiatives from an infrastructure standpoint.

“We also collected a lot of information about the existing conditions of our campuses and buildings. Some of our buildings, we may not be using as efficiently as we could be, both from an energy perspective and a space utilization perspective,” Wolfe said.

However, the data collected through the MyCampus Survey, which was administered to students in early March, is already being analyzed.

The MyCampus Survey examined four categories pertaining to the university: campus life, academic life, quality of place and mobility. Each of these categories had their own subcategories, of which included areas such as dining, classroom space and parking. Students were able to select the places that they most frequented, while also providing feedback on campus facilities.

Overall, 2,391 students responded to the survey and 62 percent of these students chose Fairfax as their main campus. Of Mason’s approximately 33,000 students, Wolfe commented that only a small selection contributed to the survey, however many of the students that chose to respond also commented on the quality of various facilities around the campuses.

“It’s a lot of comments but it’s actually a fairly small percentage of the student body that responded…you have to weigh the real value of the comments,” Wolfe said.

On the Fairfax campus, there were five major themes that students gave both positive and negative feedback on: dining, general improvements, gathering space, free time space and campus navigation in the winter.

In terms of facilities improvement, over half of the comments focused on parking, Robinson A and B, the Krug Hall, Finley, East and West buildings, the Johnson Center, and Mason Pond.

According to the data provided by the Office of Facilities, the comments highlighted renovating buildings to have more technological capabilities in the classroom and improving food and seating options in the Johnson Center.

According to Calhoun, one of the main priorities of the plan is to focus on improving the spaces Mason already has, while also creating new facilities.

“Many people when they hear the word ‘development’ that it means new buildings, it doesn’t just mean that. It means, how do we use the space we have more effectively to support the strategic plan and the vision of the president,” Calhoun said.

One area that Calhoun feels will experience development with both new facilities and general improvement is housing.

“The one area that bridges those two [thoughts] is residential housing. If we’re going to achieve the goal of the strategic plan, that might mean a lot more students on campus or more distance education, it’s still to be determined how we’re going to do that. But I think there’s a belief that we’re going to have more housing on campus,” Calhoun said.

Creating more residential housing would increase the number of on-campus students who would be taking advantage of dining options, which Phil Abbruscato, student representative on the master plan’s steering committee, thinks Mason needs to look into expanding.

“We really need another dining hall in the Aquia neighborhood because after Ike’s and the Mason Inn dining facilities are complete, there’s still going to be a 500 seat deficit,” Abbruscato said.

The survey also examined student travel patterns, both on foot and by car. The survey showed major traffic congestion throughout the Fairfax campus and highlighted the density of the major parking lots (noted in the above graphic). The graphic also shows that the pathway from Lot K to Mason Pond has the most interactions between cars and pedestrians.

In addition, the survey asked students to identify where they believe the entrance is to the Fairfax campus. The answers ranged across the campus, identifying the entrance off of Chain Bridge Road and by the Patriot Center and off of Roberts Road. Abbruscato believes establishing a consensus on this issue would contribute to creating Mason traditions.

“It’s about establishing that belonging and tradition, the feeling that Mason has those things,” Abbruscato said.

Keeping tradition in mind, Abbruscato hopes to continue to get student feedback and making sure student interests are being met during the planning process.

While continuing with the planning process, Wolfe is optimistic about the numerous ways in which the master plan can serve the university.

“What I hope comes out of this master plan is how are we going to continue to meet aspirations for growth that the university has,” Wolfe said. “The strategic plan says that we’re going to continue to grow in enrollment and research and other things and if you match that up with the fact that we’re not going to have significant amounts of new space, that means we’re going to have to renew and rethink how we’re using a lot of our existing space and using it as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Abbruscato also emphasized that the master plan not only needs to look to the future, but also to the students that are currently enrolled at Mason.

“It’s great that so many students are interested in coming to Mason but we need to make sure the infrastructure is there and that students that are here right now are able to reap the benefits of the opportunities that Mason has to offer,” Abbruscato said.