Welcome to UMR: get reacquainted with your campus

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On December 21, 2005

Gazing out the window of his son’s new digs on the second floor of UMR’s Residential College, Vincent H. Grelle, EE’81, MS EMgt’87, acknowledges that the four-lane, landscape-lined boulevard below doesn’t much resemble “the old road to frat row” he remembers from his days on campus.

“It’s changed a lot,” says Grelle, of Ballwin, Mo., while his son Stephen, a freshman, arranges his CD collection in alphabetical order and lines them up in a bedside shelf. “They did a nice job with it.”

A member of Sigma Nu and the St. Pat’s Board while at UMR, Grelle took his share of trips back and forth along Missouri Highway E, that “road to frat row,” in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Today, that road has a new name – University Drive – that conveys its new distinction. No more is it simply an artery connecting campus with a hub of fraternity houses. The widened, beautified and tree-lined stretch of highway also serves as the main entrance to campus from Interstate 44, and the front door to UMR.

Alumni who haven’t been back to campus for a few years might not recognize University Drive, or the university it leads to. The widening and redesign of that boulevard is just one of many transformations the campus has undergone in recent years. Many more improvements are in the works – from new buildings, walkways and traffic patterns to more beautiful landscaping and long-range plans to make UMR more inviting.

A campus in transition

UMR’s extreme makeover has been under way for a few years. Since 2002, visitors have witnessed a campus in transition. They’ve had to sidestep construction crews while finding new routes around the grounds and new places to park while buildings were demolished, constructed or renovated. Faculty, staff and students became accustomed to wending their way through mazes of orange barrier fencing. Faculty juggled classroom assignments and parking lots yielded to new construction. UMR’s landscaping crews were busier than ever planting flowers, shrubs and trees. But the temporary inconveniences have paid off. When Vincent and Debbie Grelle, of Ballwin, Mo., moved their son into the Residential College last August, the campus appeared more welcoming and collegiate than ever.

Visitors driving up University Drive toward campus these days crest the hill to encounter UMR’s new student union, the Havener Center, named for its chief benefactor, Gary Havener, Math’62. The 105,000-square-foot building houses a food court and coffee shop, the UMR Bookstore, offices for student organizations, and meeting and banquet space for groups as small as 10 and as large as 500. It’s also outfitted for wireless Internet use, so students can check their email on their laptops over a latte and a danish in the center’s coffee shop, Cup o’ Joe’s.

Diagonally facing the contemporary, two-story, brick and limestone structure is the Residential College, UMR’s newest building and home to some 250 students this fall. Like the Havener Center, the three-story Residential College’s architectural style is “contemporary collegiate” – incorporating gentle curves, tinted windows, and the use of buff-colored brick, limestone and molded concrete.
With the Residential College design echoing that of the Havener Center, together, the buildings serve as the cornerstone of a new campus look and geographic orientation. They signal a shift of campus activity from the southernmost part of campus, where the former student center stood.

Though the color and style of brick resemble that of many older structures on campus, the architectural style stands in stark contrast to the hodgepodge of rectangular, nondescript structures built during the expansions of the 1960s and 1970s.

Inside the Residential College, newfangled living arrangements – the suite-style rooms, semi-private bathrooms, shared common spaces, large meeting rooms and wireless connectivity to the Internet – signal a cultural shift for university housing. The Residential College is not your “father’s dormitory.” The building also houses four learning communities, which bring more specialized academic focus to the living quarters. Construction of a second residential college adjacent to the new building is slated to begin next fall.

Rolling out the welcome mat

The entry to campus stops at the U.S. Highway 63-University Drive interchange, as visitors to the campus turn right onto 63, then left into the Havener Center parking area. But UMR’s master plan, a blueprint for how the campus will look in the future, calls for continuing that welcoming look into campus. The plan incorporates the concept of a pedestrian walkway from the entry. In the past, University Drive crossed U.S. 63 and entered campus. That through street has been blocked off, and the paved area bordering the Havener Center forms the beginning of a pedestrian mall.

The walkway still looks a lot like a street, as the asphalt has yet to be replaced by brick. But campus planners envision transforming the area into a brick-lined corridor that connects Havener with the rest of campus – McNutt Hall and the Engineering Management Building to the immediate north, the Humanities-Social Sciences Building, Harris Hall, the Curtis Laws Wilson Library and the main campus to the east. The walkway will extend to Pine Street and the entry to the Bulter-Carlton Civil Engineering Building and Emerson Hall, which houses Grelle’s home department, electrical and computer engineering. The result will be an east-west corridor designed to provide better access and a more pleasant atmosphere for students, faculty, staff and alumni as they traverse the campus among classrooms, offices, the Curtis Laws Wilson Library and various academic buildings.

From meeting space to green space

Another corridor – this one more familiar to alumni – runs along the north-south axis of campus. It begins where the old University Center once stood.

Anyone looking for the University Center, constructed in the early 1960s, won’t find it. The site that once housed St. Pat’s dances, student organizations, a bookstore and meeting space was razed last spring and has been replaced by green space. The change gives breathing room to the Rolla Building, UMR’s oldest structure, and arguably the most architecturally interesting building on campus. The old University Center – renamed University Center-West after the larger University Center-East was built in the late 1960s – was built so close to the Rolla Building that a walkway between the two was barely wide enough to accommodate students walking three or four abreast. The more spacious layout gives the Rolla Building a more prominent position on the campus, and gives passersby a better view of the structure as they travel the north-south corridor.

The corridor runs between the University Center-East on the south end of campus and the Curtis Laws Wilson Library to the north. The University Center-East now houses UMR’s human resources offices and classroom space. Plans call for the enrollment management, admissions and registrar’s offices to be relocated there in the future.

One landmark that remains on the south end of the main campus is the Puck, where St. Pat’s Board reps have urged students to “get your green” since the 1960s. It now forms the center of a spacious milieu where students toss Frisbees, read under shade trees or simply soak up the sun.

Next phase: Toomey Hall

The area between the Puck and the library has a more traditional, collegiate feel to it, but will serve a similar purpose: providing a pleasant, unobtrusive atmosphere for students moving between classes. The green space to the south echos the library’s renovated plaza, completed a year ago.

A centerpiece of that north-south corridor will be the next big construction project on campus: Toomey Hall, the mechanical and aerospace engineering building named in honor of John Toomey, ME’49, MS ME’51, his wife, Mary Toomey, and their family.

A groundbreaking ceremony for Toomey Hall was held over Homecoming. The next steps involve razing the Mechanical Engineering Annex – constructed in 1902, a year before the Wright Brothers’ famous first flight – and renovating and expanding the current Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Building. The new, 73,000-square-foot structure will house learning centers, laboratories, research and technical facilities. Toomey Hall is expected to be completed by the summer of 2008. By the time Stephen Grelle is ready to graduate, the campus should be well acquainted with Toomey Hall, and today’s new campus look will be as familiar with his generation of students as the old road to frat row was to his father’s.

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On December 21, 2005. Posted in Features, Winter 2005