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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—For the third time in fifteen years, the Rutgers administration has unveiled plans to dramatically change the College Avenue campus.
This time the plans come as part of the school’s latest “Physical Master Plan,” an effort to follow up on the goals of the Strategic Plan.
Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) and Sasaki Associates took more than a year to draft the plan, discuss it, revise it, and assess its feasibility. The firms were paid a whopping $2 million to oversee the planning process, according to NJ.com.
Their ambitious plans call for a variety of new construction and design ideas, many of which may never see the light of day. Officials said the plan was designed to guide future development over the next 15-20 years.
Antonio Calcado, Vice President of University Affairs and Capital Planning, presented the first portion of the plan on February 3 at the Board of Governors meeting, claiming that the document is so large they could not possibly present it all at once.
Newark and Camden will be covered in future presentations, he said.
The New Brunswick portion of the plan represents perhaps the most ambitious redevelopment roadmap in the city’s history.
But it also did not include even an estimate of its costs, or any details on how to potentially fund the dozens of construction projects.
The plans might be funded by public-private partnerships, officials said, but they gave no indication as to who those partners might be.
RECONFIGURING THE “HEART” OF CAMPUS
In this new Rutgers, if it arises, people looking towards the Raritan River from a new student center near George Street would see a serpentine pedestrian-bicycle bridge connecting the College Avenue and Livingston campuses.
The plan calls for the demolition of several large structures in the “heart of campus”, including the Rutgers (College Avenue) Student Center, Brower Commons dining hall, and the Student Activities Center.
A new central public space between College Avenue and George Street would be developed in place of many of the buildings on the chopping block.
The only building that will definitely remain is the College Avenue Gym, or “the barn,” according to Calcado, because it is a beautiful historic building of the campus.
The gym would anchor the new central space on one end, while a new George Street “transit hub” at the other would replace Hardenbergh Hall, the middle of three high-rise housing buildings known as the “river dorms.”
The current site of the Kreeger Learning Center, the campus power plant, and Records Hall, which currently contains a computer lab, campus post office, and administrative ofices, would be replaced with greenery flanked by several new buildings including a cultural center and new student center.
When discussing College Ave campus, Calcado explained what the administration views as the “heart of campus,” the area including Brower Commons, the Quads, and the student center. However, the campus has an older core, around Voorhees Mall, which was largely ignored.
Brower Commons dining hall will be replaced, although Calcado said that it feeds too many people to be torn down immediately. Instead, Rutgers would build a new dining hall first, then demolish Brower.
The new lawn would cover the Brower Commons site, the Kreeger Learning Center site, much of where the College Avenue Parking Deck is today, and part of Records Hall.
It would be bordered by a continuation of the brick wall currently fringing the old Quad.
REFOCUSING “ON THE BANKS OF THE OLD RARITAN”
The plan calls for redeveloping much of the newer “heart of campus” – the area around Brower Commons – and refocusing the campus on the river.
Calcado said that most colleges incorporate rivers into the University, but that Rutgers has not done that.
Deiner Park was one of the state’s more recent attempts to integrate Rutgers-College Avenue with the river. It covers Route 18, which walls off the campus from the river.
Calcado pointed out, “We want to make the river part of the fabric of the university, and part of the life of the university.”
Near the foot of the epic pedestrian-bike bridge would be a riverfront transit center, and two more pedestrian bridges spanning George Street, connecting the new campus center to a revamped and expanded Deiner Park.
Judging from the architect’s rendering, the new mall would be more or less at-grade with College Avenue, so people would have to go down stairs or a ramp, or take an elevator, to access George Street from the new space.
In addressing the issues with the Rutgers bus system, the plan proposes dedicated bus lanes between the Cook/Douglass and College Avenue campuses, in an effort to alleviate traffic and speed up students’ commutes.
The plan calls for a north-bound bus lane on Neilson Street, and a south-bound lane on George Street.
Though the plan does not include any train component, much to the chagrin of transit advocates, it does call for dedicated bus lanes along George and Neilsen Streets, and a new bridge over Route 18 connecting the Busch and Livingston campuses in Piscataway.
LAST PHYSICAL MASTER PLAN LARGELY DID NOT COME TO FRUITION
Like previous master plans, which parts become reality and which remain in the concept phase largely depends on required approvals and financing.
Most of the plans for New Brunswick in a 2003 master plan did not come to fruition. Yet several major university projects built in the city over the past decade were not part of the 2003 plan.
That plan featured a multitude of new construction ideas, but only artist’s renderings for the projects, and no specific details on how they would be funded.
Instead, the handful of New Brunswick projects that became a reality were done mostly through partnerships with New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), including a new Rutgers Police Station, the school’s Barnes & Noble bookstore, and Rockoff Hall, the downtown dorm that DEVCO later sold to a for-profit company.
A second wave of plans for College Avenue led the administration of Rutgers University President Richard McCormick to call for the road’s closure to automobiles.
Although the city helped the university obtain $1 million from the federal government, that plan still did not become a reality. Instead, the funds were spent revamping a single campus bus stop.
At least one similarity with the 2003 plan is a tower replacing the current site of the Rutgers Club. It is unclear what the purpose of the proposed high-rise is.
The Gateway project, the current site of the Vue and the Rutgers Barnes and Noble bookstore, was not mentioned in the 2003 plan. The initial design included a new home for the Rutgers Club, and a Rutgers visitor’s center as well.
The visitor’s center went onto Busch Campus, near the football stadium, instead.
AMBITIOUS BICYCLING AND WALKING BRIDGE TO PISCATAWAY
Bicycling and walking infrastructure are emphasized in the new plan, including the new bridge across the river, a new path for bikes and buses linking the Busch and Livingston campuses, boardwalks on the New Brunswick side of the river, and better trails in the Livingston Campus Environmental Preserve.
Perhaps the most interesting feature, and the least likely to become a reality, is the proposal for a new bridge for pedestrians and cyclists spanning the Raritan River.
The bridge would connect the College Avenue campus to the southern end of the Livingston campus’ ecological preserve.
Though it would provide a quick connection between the university and Johnson Park, one of the county’s best public facilities, it is unlikely many students would actually use the bridge to get to and from the Livingston campus.
It would be a 1.5 mile trip in total to get to the Livingston Student Center, through the heavily-wooded preserve, hardly ideal for cyclists or pedestrians.
Some said they feared criminals would wait at one end of the bridge for victims.
“I see this footbridge being a source of many crime alerts for anyone who decides to traverse it late at night,” wrote one commenter on the Rutgers Reddit. “Although common sense would tell you not to, there’s always going to be people doing it.”
Officials also did not address the proposed bridge’s potential impact on the environment and wildlife, which would snake across a tidal portion of the Raritan and through the county-owned park.
The last time a new Raritan River crossing was built, the John Lynch Sr. Bridge, its construction was held up for nearly a decade due to environmental concerns.
In addition to the bridge, the plan proposes building an expansive boardwalk along the Raritan River, and demolishing Hardenbergh Hall to make Deiner Park more accessible.
Given the placement of Route 18, a major highway in between the campus and the river, it is unclear as to how this boardwalk will be accessible from College Avenue. There is already a staircase from Deiner Park to the old bicycle path running by the river, but it’s often padlocked and not wheelchair-accessible.
COOK AND DOUGLASS WOULD SEE MORE DEVELOPMENT
The Cook and Douglass campuses, in the Second Ward of New Brunswick, would see plenty of new construction as well, mostly along Nichol Avenue and near the Ryders Lane/Route 1 junction.
A new soccer field and faculty “housing village” would replace the Newell and Starkey Apartments.
Calcado stated that much of the housing on that campus was obsolete, particularly the Newells, which was originally meant to be a temporary development.
A handful of one- and two-story buildings, including a couple of greenhouses on Nichol Avenue would give way to classroom buildings and residence halls.
The fairgrounds of the famous New Jersey Folk Festival would sprout a new sculpture garden on one side, as well as exhibit areas. Existing bicycle and pedestrian trails might be revamped or rearranged, but they would remain, as would the fairgrounds themselves.
The Douglass Campus Center would grow, along with Rehearsal Hall/Robert E. Mortensen Hall and a nearby theater building.
Hickman Hall would be torn down, and a new parking deck with “amenities” would take over the parking lot next to the Hickman Hall site.
The College Farm Road/ Lipman Drive intersection would be replaced by a classroom building. A new connection to Dudley Road would be built nearby providing access to College Farm Road.
A NEW “GATEWAY” TO CONNECT BUSCH AND LIVINGSTON
On the other side of the river, Rutgers is proposing to develop a chunk of mostly wooded land on the periphery of the Ecological Preserve.
Between Busch and Livingston campus, the plan intends to build a new “gateway” area bringing the campuses closer together with expanded transportation infrastructure, including a new bridge over Route 18.
A diamond-shaped set of roads would surround the new development zone, anchored by the Busch Student Center on one side and the new Rutgers Business School, on the Livingston Campus, on the other.
Avenue E, which now turns into Davidson Road, would be extended to run past the side of the Busch Campus Center into one end of Busch Campus’s “mall”, a feat which would involve demolishing the School of Engineering Building.
The other road, a busway and bike path, would leave Busch Campus along the rear of Barr Residence Hall and BEST Hall North, turn slightly to the left and pass over Route 18, and head directly for the roundabout at Livingston Campus’s Business School.
An entire neighborhood of residence halls and apartments on Busch Campus would get overhauled in the vicinity of Barr Hall, and the ASB annexes would come down. Several new buildings would be built in the vicinity.
Inside the “diamond”, the Busch side of Route 18 would become an academic support and research center, while the Livingston side would become a technology research/ innovation “park.”
There, Rutgers wants to build a hotel and conference center adjacent to the Business School and the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Across the street from the Business school, leading off of Route 18, they want to build a “Research District” of about a dozen buildings.
The purposes of these buildings was also not elaborated on, which was unusual considering the large number being proposed.
In total, the plan calls for six parking garages in Piscataway, four on Livingston and two on Busch. Currently, the university has no parking garages outside of New Brunswick.
IN CONCLUSION: A MAJESTIC BUT EXPENSIVE PLAN
At the conclusion of the presentation, Rutgers University President Bob Barchi stepped in to express his pride for the development of the plan.
“This is just a little smorgasbord of the plan, touching on the highlights,” Barchi said. “This is in no way a comprehensive view of the plan.”
In all the comments from members of the Board, including Barchi, no one explained or asked how much the overall plan would cost to fulfill or how it would be funded.
It was simply stated they would need to do fundraising and would utilize public-private partnerships.
Although Barchi did not elaborate on this, he did reveal some of his views on students by referring to them as “customers.”
Barchi told the audience that the plan’s main goal is “to take something that has grown to be very ineffective, inefficient, poorly located, or divided up over campus and put it into a single location that is accessible to the customers,”
Awkwardly, Barchi added, “which in this case are the students.”
Given the rising cost of tuition, and ongoing issues with faculty and staff, who are currently working without a contract, it is unclear on how the new plans will impact present members of the Rutgers community.
In response to the plan, a representative of the AAUP-AFT, which represents Rutgers staff and faculty, encouraged the Board to “support the faculty and staff and settle the contract negotiations.”
The union representative, Patrick Nowlan, drew attention to the recent publicity surrounding the university’s successful fundraising efforts that brought in $1.037 billion, and claimed that if they can raise this much money and fund such an expensive master plan, that staff and faculty salaries should be funded as well.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Rabinowitz is related to one of the non-voting members of the Board of Governors.