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University Renewal Sees Progress, Challenges as Semester Wraps Up

Contributing Writer

Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011

Updated: Sunday, November 20, 2011 23:11

Howard University is in the midst of the first phase of an extreme makeover, which the administration hopes will promote an atmosphere of academic excellence and university pride. This phase alone is expected to cost $32 million, according to project manager Omowale Crenshaw.

"The campus master plan identifies the universe of upgrades and new facilities deemed necessary to achieve the University's competitive repositioning over the next ten years," said the Howard University Office of Communications.

The plan is meant to address concerns that have been raised by students and faculty for several years. One example is housing availability. According to the studies within Central Campus Master Plan, the university can only house about 46 percent of its students, a rate 20 percent below that of other universities located in densely-populated urban areas.

While these changes will be welcomed, some may question why the university is just now starting long-overdue construction projects that students and faculty have been demanding for years. One reason is that President Sidney Ribeau, who took office in 2008, has since developed the vision and focus of the entire renewal process.

"The university is also on stronger financial footing," Crenshaw said, "which has provided the opportunity to identify much-needed capital improvement funds."

Crenshaw brought up the $100 million District of Columbia revenue bond program awarded to Howard last April. Thirty dollars of this money has gone toward the first of four phases of construction, and Crenshaw expressed hope that the project's progress would promote fundraising opportunities.

The job of campus restoration and renovation is a large one and will require many different contractors and design firms. The university has favored small, local and minority-owned companies, according to Crenshaw.

Currently, minority firms are responsible for more than 75 percent of the architectural design and 54 percent of the construction contracts.

Construction is already behind schedule. Burr Gymnasium was supposed to be completed in August, but the building is still under renovation due to construction challenges, permit delays and spatial logistics.

"Construction challenges and delays are not unusual in the construction industry," Crenshaw said. He identified the lack of "swing space," or temporary space for daily activities and special events to take place, as a major contributor to the delays. However, the initial work has been completed, and the university expects no significant delays. Phase One of the campus renewal process is expected to reach completion in early Spring 2012.

Here are some other major changes expected to take place during the makeover.

The School of Communications, along with a center for Academics, Support Service, and Public Safety, will be moved to the corner of Georgia Avenue and Bryant Street with retail space on the lower levels of the building. The buildings to be demolished are the Academic Support Buildings A and B, Wonder Plaza, the Tech Center, the Howard University Center and Annex I and II.

Other proposed changes include improved campus streetscapes and landscaping, diversified retail space on Georgia Avenue and in the proposed Howard Town Center, solar panels on the rooftop of the Undergraduate Library and a more "welcoming" appearance on Howard's Georgia Avenue front.

Students can also expect to see changes in the transportation network. Surface parking spaces will be replaced with underground parking garages to increase the number of spaces from 2,300 spaces across the university. There are also plans to increase parking fees to reduce market demand.

As on-campus housing is expected to increase, the demand for shuttle service is expected to decrease along with the supply of shuttles. Another method to reduce the need for cars and parking spaces will be to make the campus more bike-friendly with parking and storage facilities and increase Zip Car spaces.

In addition, the university hopes to discourage criminal activity by creating an urban mixed-use space. This development will include the addition of academic, residential, retail and commercial space along Georgia Avenue between Harvard Street and Florida Avenue and along the side streets of Bryant Street, V Street, Sherman Avenue and 8th Street.

The university's Office of Sustainability, located in the Capital Asset Development Department, is making sure the campus stays green throughout the renewal. Projects include greenhouse gas inventory, electric charging stations, recycling programs, sustainable building, green roofs, storm water management and solar panels.

Schools and colleges including the Schools of Engineering, Architecture, and Physics are also helping with the renewable energy efforts.

Crenshaw said Howard's historical sites will not be torn down in the process. "Howard University is a national treasure because of our invaluable contributions as architects of social justice in the United States and around the world," he said.

The university has identified one National Historic Landmark, Howard Hall, and one NHL district, consisting of Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel, Fredrick Douglass Memorial Hall, Founders Library and the Carnegie Building.

When asked about the former Freedman's Hospital, currently the C.B. Powell Building housing the School of Communications and the Department of Psychology, Crenshaw pointed out that this building is not on the national historic registry, though it is named as an historic site by Cultural Tourism DC. The Campus Master Plan suggests that C.B. Powell will become the administrative center of Howard.

Daniel Cokes, the current Mr. Howard University, said the current infrastructure makes it difficult for Howard to attract quality students and faculty. However, he said a discussion on what needs to be done should take on a new focus.

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