Yesterday I visited the University of Missouri - St. Louis campus for the first time in perhaps two years.
It's funny, since I used to spend so much time there. I lived in what was then called Honors Hall from 1997 through 2000, except for summers. At the time, the Pierre Laclede Honors College was housed in the former Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word - St. Louis Province convent, built in the 1920s, right next door to the all-girls private Catholic high school Incarnate Word Academy. One time while cleaning my room I found a tiny crucifix stuck between the baseboard and the floor.
So I lived in a dorm room in a fascinating old building just two flights of stairs away from many of my daytime classes. The former chapel, with funky yellow glass windows since the sisters had removed their stained glass, was used for large classes and special events.
However, the Honors College outgrew that space and moved a few years ago into another, larger former convent that's about as old: the former Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul facility, now an integral part of the UMSL South Campus. Honors occupies the center Marillac Provincial House section; two other sections are used as separate residence halls. A new residence hall is I think still under construction just south of there. So the on-campus housing component to UMSL is really growing.
On the North Campus, even more dramatic changes have happened since I graduated in 2001. At that time, the huge new Millennum Student Center had just opened; now it is a very busy place.
Although the campus is still quite hilly, the new student center makes it a lot easier to walk from the UMSL North MetroLink stop to the core classroom buildings in SSB, CCB, Lucas, and Clark Halls. There's a long indoor skywalk that connects the outdoor plaza around which those buildings were built in the early 1970s, to the student center second floor.
It is a little annoying that the newly constructed walkways leading from the student center to the infamous Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center just west of the MetroLink station, do not lead conveniently nor directly to the MetroLink stop itself.
You still have to walk diagonally across grassy areas and parking lots. The grounds department has placed "Please Use Sidewalks" signs in this area, which are entirely ineffective. The paved walkways are too far out of the way, especially since it's obvious there is a direct, well-worn dirt path to use.
It seems like that section of campus had been under construction for much of the past decade, between the student center and performing arts center projects. Now that those are complete, perhaps the facilities planners will figure out they need to build a paved pathway directly from the UMSL North MetroLink station to the student center.
Meanwhile, the southward view from the student center bridge is much more attractive than it was a few years ago, now that a group of decaying surface parking lots in the low-lying center of campus have been replaced with a couple small lakes including a fountain or two. They seem much more appealing than ol' Bugg Lake near the science complex.
I think most of the old, rusting "temporary" parking garages that stood for three times as many years as intended, are gone. There might still be one standing; but for the most part, parking is now provided in larger, concrete-built structures. I guess you gotta have it somewhere; at least these look more like actual buildings.
Most excitingly, I could see from the MetroLink platform the new bikeway that crosses high above Florissant Road on a former railroad bridge near the even higher up MetroLink bridge near the Bellerive Drive entrance to the campus. I understand the path leads to old town Ferguson, with only a couple street crossings. Pretty cool; need to check that out sometime. It's another thing that was several years in the making.
UMSL is one campus that is actually pretty easy to reach, with two MetroLink stations, several MetroBus lines, and now direct access to I-70 via "University Boulevard" (relocated Florissant Road). The bikeway only adds to that accessiblity, and will eventually connect with the St. Vincent Greenway currently in the planning stages.
Although it's definitely not located in the City of St. Louis, in some ways UMSL is more connected to the community than WashU or SLU. Given that it is part of the land-grant UM System, it offers lots of community education programs. And the tuition is much, much more affordable than those other two.
And, oh yeah - I'll be teaching an evening class (Introduction to Urban Politics) at UMSL in the upcoming spring semester. ;-)
I guess I've come full-circle. Eight years ago, I took that same class at UMSL, taught by Joe Davis, who seems to teach part-time at every college in St. Louis. My pizza delivery driver even mentioned him the other day as one of his teachers at SLU!