Monday, January 23, 2006

Inter-Campus Travails

Inter-Campus Travails

Last week, I happened to visit and utilize, at one time or another, four of the major university campuses in the region:

  • University of Missouri - Saint Louis
  • Saint Louis University
  • Washington University in Saint Louis
  • Harris-Stowe State University

    Each institution has unique strengths in its academic and community programs. Further, each has a different sort of architectural feel.

    Washington University in Saint Louis. I spend some time just about every day of the week here. WashU probably has the prettiest campus of the four, with the most consistent design theme. I suppose you could call it neo-Gothic. Here I'm really just talking about the Hilltop campus bounded by Skinker, Forest Park Pky, Big Bend, and Forsyth. The South 40 residence hall district is much more modern and mixed between 1950s high-rises and more recent replacement structures that sort of resemble the main campus architecture, but not that much.

    While Brookings Hall and the surrounding quadrangle complex are architecturally stunning and well-maintained, some of the newer buildings designed to look like it, such as Whitaker and Earth & Planetary Sciences, are a bit more sterile. And, although the campus is generally quite walkable, there's still a lot of surface parking on the eastern edge.

    Indeed, until recently, Bixby Hall was the only building on the Hilltop campus located inside the City of St. Louis. This huge "front lawn" (indeed, originally it was unpaved) forms an unfortunate barrier between the campus and the city, making WashU appear to be a literal ivory tower.

    Saint Louis University. SLU has a lot more architectural variation on its main (Frost) campus, located mostly between Compton, Olive, Vandeventer, and Laclede. St. Francis Xavier (College) Church is a magnificent and stunning feature, and a major city landmark. Nearby DuBourg Hall is also a rather nice building.

    But since SLU has expanded since the 1970s mostly by acquiring existing nearby buildings, many of which had other uses in the past, they seem to have lost some of the historic character of Midtown. Sure, Cupples House is really neat; and the business school complex is interesting as well. But most of the campus consists of 1950s institutional buildings like the former Xavier High School (now Xavier Hall), or the former Salvation Army / IBM office building (now the Humanities Building, I think, or is that McGannon Hall?).

    SLU's campus just has a more modern feel, not necessarily austere, but certainly not as posh as WashU. That's not surprising, given just how much more money WashU has than SLU. Nevertheless, the fountain and clocktower at (what once was) Spring and West Pine, is an attractive focal point to the SLU experience. It's not historic, but that doesn't make it worthless.

    Harris-Stowe State University. Harris-Stowe, meanwhile, is still an evolving campus. It's located between Compton, Market, Ewing, and Olive, making it still a fairly small campus. The original building at 3026 Laclede - the former Vashon High School built in 1927 - is now known as the Henry Givens Jr Administration Building. Harris-Stowe also owns the former Vashon Recreation Center facing Market near Compton. The Southwestern Bell Library is a great modern facility which hosts lots of community group meetings.

    I haven't been inside the new Emerson gym / theatre building yet; and another structure is rising on the north edge of the campus, probably to house the business school. However, the center of the campus is still not a focal point. Although it is grassy rather than paved, there is surface parking quite nearby. The paved walkways are still unfinished, and under the grass you can still see and feel the gravel and rock left behind by the demolition of the 1960s LaClede Town apartments.

    This is at least the third phase of development in this part of the city, given that LaClede Town itself was built on the former site of many 1870s and 1880s houses in the African-American community known as the Mill Creek Valley, cleared wholesale in the 1950s to enable industrial expansion and highway construction near downtown.

    Harris-Stowe is considered an historically African-American institution, although the Harris part of the name was originally the whites-only teacher training school run by the St Louis Public Schools; while Stowe was the equivalent (but certainly not equal) school for African-American teachers in training.

    Harris-Stowe's predecessors date to 1857 (Harris) and 1890 (Stowe), but it only became part of the state college system in 1979; and received its university designation about four months ago. So, it's still a public institution on the grow.

    University of Missouri - Saint Louis. UMSL, meanwhile, shows a kind of direction Harris-Stowe might be able to take given sufficient resources. Of the four schools, UMSL has the largest campus geographically, and the most students. It is also located in the most suburban location of the four, but has an advantage over the other three schools listed: it has two MetroLink stations located on campus. (WashU will too, but not until the end of this year at the earliest.)

    UMSL was founded in 1963, and the North Campus (the former site of Bellerive Country Club) is still where most academic facilities are concentrated.

    A while back I shared my impressions of the UMSL campus today. Generally, it's a sprawling and hilly place, but the student center provides a focal point that was formerly absent. Indeed, the elevated walkway connecting the student center with the major classroom complex (Lucas, Clark, SSB/Tower, and CCB) is busy at all hours of the day and evening. UMSL has almost as many classes in the evenings as during the day.

    A new feature of the UMSL campus is the "Ted" Jones Trail, which makes up the off-road portion of the North County Bikeway administered by the St. Louis County Department of Parks & Recreation. This trail starts at an odd location: under the MetroLink tracks near the UMSL maintenance facility located under the northeast parking garage off Bellerive Drive just south of Florissant Road.

    What's cool about this trail is that from that inauspicious starting point, it goes up, up, and over Florissant Road on part of the former Norfolk Southern (Wabash) right-of-way that Bi-State acquired years ago but did not use for MetroLink.

    The Ted Jones Trail continues northward, with a short spur providing a nice leisurely walking route from the UMSL campus to the UMSL Fine Arts Building and some athletic fields, located on the former campus of Cardinal Newman College off Rosedale Drive near Florissant Road. Although the UMSL shuttle goes there too, this trail provides a nice alternative route to walking along Florissant Road itself, which has no sidewalks.

    From there, the trail appears to go straight through a tunnel under the recently reconstructed I-70, and then all the way to downtown Ferguson. I don't think too many people know about this trail yet, but it seems like a nice leisurely place to bike or stroll, since there's really only one at-grade street crossing: Woodstock Road in south Ferguson, where trail parking is also available.

    Now we just need UMSL to build a bicycle path alongside East Drive on the North Campus and then across Natural Bridge to the South Campus, which would ultimately link the North County Bikeway with the planned St Vincent Greenway corridor to the south.

    A grade-separated walkway across Natural Bridge - although certainly costly - would also help connect the North campus and the South campus (where most on-campus residences as well as the Music, Optometry, Nursing and Education programs are located) more effectively and safely. It would also be useful for students walking to and from Normandy Middle School and Lucas Crossing Elementary Complex.

    Perhaps Great Rivers Greenway, UMSL, St Louis County, MoDOT, Normandy School District, and federal funding sources could be combined to make such an enhancement to pedestrian and bicycle access a reality. The topography would seem to suggest a tunnel, but a bridge might be more aesthetically pleasing. A location somewhere east of Woods Hall and the Music Building, and west of Normandy Middle and the former Normandy Hospital (now owned by UMSL) seems most appropriate. Connecting pathways would need to be constructed across the former hospital and Child Care Center of Our Lady properties to the south, whose grounds are also owned by UMSL.

    Currently, there is a road that connects the UMSL South Campus directly to St Vincent County Park; but because a small cemeterey originally associated with the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul is located on that road, it is usually locked and closed to all traffic. If it could at least be opened to pedestrians and cyclists, that would help make the connection to the south.

    While off-street bicycling paths are not always necessary, they are an excellent resource for providing additional transportation and recreation opportunities. Here, it seems like there's also the possibility of using such a greenway to provide a better connection between the pieces of the UMSL campus and with the surrounding communities.

    Anonymous said...

    Joe, does UMSL still give its students transit passes?

    And btw, only if you're sadistic, will WashU have two new stations "by the end of this year at the earliest." Optimistically, it's by Labor Day. Pessimistically, by Halloween. Either way, Cross County will open way before the end of 2006, even at its latest.

    Anonymous said...

    As an UMSL student who takes FULL advantage of her free metro pass, I can tell you that the answer is YES. It is good for the entire semester, through finals, and free to any registered student, regardless of course load. Did I mention that it is FREE? This is great because not only do I save on gas by parking at the 5-min drive from my home Delmar lot, I don't have to pay the astronomical $18/credit hour parking permit fee, so I can park in a garage that is probably a longer walk than the North Campus metrolink stop. It seems that every semester more and more students are riding, as well. And it is good for buses, too, AND you can use it to go anywhere, not just for the trip to/from school.

    bev said...

    I've always heard the style of Wash-U, Fontbonne and Webster (where I attend graduate school) as Collegiate Gothic. All of those schools were built around the same time, I think. As a U-City resident, I appreciate that Wash-U spent the money to put in a collegiate gothic parking garage!

    I have been thinking about the accessibility of Webster lately. Though it's not on your list of where you've been recently, you post has given me food for thought.

    When it's open, I intend to take the new MetroLink line from Big Bend and Forest Park to the Sunnen station and walk the rest of the way to the Webster main campus. I think that'll work if I give myself enough time. Right now, I'm a driver and while parking is available and close to classes, the campus has spotty sidewalks and low light. A little odd for us night-class-takers.

    Anonymous said...

    A new Webster-Kirkwood bus will connect the Webster main campus to the Sunnen MetroLink station.

    View the new bus route's map on-line at:

    Anonymous said...

    A much delayed response, but...

    I heard the reason for the relative blandness of WashU's new buildings like Whitaker is because they use only two different stone colors instead of three. Supposedly, this is because one of the quarries where the stones come was nearing its end-of-life and would not have enough to complete the work on the new buildings.

    Also, the engineering school has plans on constructing 4 new building to fill up the northeast corner of the campus... the huge parking lot. Current problem is where to get the money. Where will people park, though?