On Tuesday, July 17th, the USGA opened their regular meeting with a special presentation from several members of UAB’s administration. Among those present at the meeting were President Carol Garrison, Provost Linda Lucas, and VP of Financial Affairs Richard Margison. I was there to cover the presentation and was surprised to learn a lot about new projects happening on campus.
The presentation began with a 8-9 minute speech from President Garrison regarding the changes that have occurred at UAB since her arrival nearly 10 years ago. The talk was simple enough, hinting at certain improvements such as a campus transit system and more student housing. She highlighted some key aspects of campus that have come to fruition in just the last decade: the UAB Recreation Center, The Commons, Blazer Hall, Heritage Hall, The National Alumni House, The Campus Green, etc. After reviewing the past, she looked to the future, speculating on what a UAB 10 or 20 years from now might look like. She described a greatly expanded campus, stretching further north connecting to Birmingham’s Railroad Park via greenways and expanding to the east with the Medical Center. After a call to arms for students to continue to stay active in UAB’s progress as alumni, it was time for Provost Linda Lucas to begin the presentation.
You can see President Garrison’s speech to the USGA here:
The presentation began as most do, starting with a review of recent objectives that have been completed (or will finish soon) and an overview of some statistical numbers that provide insight into the selection process of campus improvements. Provost Lucas stated that Fall 2012 will mark the largest student body ever at UAB, boosted by the largest incoming freshman class in UAB history. With even more students comes the added responsibility of maintaining existing services and providing new support services. This ultimately means one thing: facility upgrades. While some of Provost Lucas’ presentation covered other plans for student engagement and changes, the majority of the big announcements came from facility proposals/plans.
Here are some of the major upgrades/developments that were mentioned in the presentation and what we know about them.
New Undergraduate Degree Programs
The university is looking into adding six additional degree programs at UAB at the undergraduate level: Public Health, Biomedical Sciences, Musical Theater, Film, Music, and Legal Studies. Of this list, Public Health is probably the most exciting. The School of Public Health is one of UAB’s most popular programs, but they do not currently have an undergraduate program. When can we expect these new programs to begin? No target date was given overall, but they will present the proposal for a BS in Public Health to the Board of Trustees this September.
New Student Center
UAB plans to build a brand new student center where the current Hill University Center stands. This project has been in development for a long time, and I originally thought that this was going to be an upgrade to the HUC. The plan presented at the USGA meeting states otherwise. The new building will be a significant investment to the UAB Campus with costs projected to be in the $45-50 million range. The student center will house the Recruitment and Welcome Centers for UAB. There will be ballrooms to accommodate meetings of all sizes and it will include a dining facility and bookstore. Based on early architect mockups, it appears that it will be as tall as the Heritage Hall building across the street from where it would be located. I assume based on contracts in place that the bookstore will remain a Barnes and Noble, but there has been no indication whether or not the dining choices currently present at the Hill University Center would stay in place for the new building (and at this stage of the process we shouldn’t expect there to be). It does however offer a unique opportunity for a change in dining on campus and I have to believe that Sodexo will at least research the possibility of modifying the existing restaurants (which now include a Chic-Fil-A and Taco Bell). UAB will present the plan for the new student center for Stage II approval from the Board of Trustees in September. Currently, the grand opening of the new UAB Student Center is targeted for August 2015.
This has pretty much been common knowledge for a while, but UAB intends to extend the Campus Green from its current location all the way to Railroad Park. The next step of this process will occur with the proposed construction of the new Student Center. This is an area I’m particularly interested in, but details for that will need to be ironed out as these other upgrades come to fruition.
Online Degree Mapping (GPS) and Scheduling
This is also not a new project, as it has already launched for the Schools of Business, Engineering, and Health Professions. However, it will be launching for everyone else soon. For those that have no idea what this is, it’s a much requested feature that allows UAB students to “map out” their degree progress by seeing what classes they need to take and reviewing what they’ve already taken instantly online. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to go to your academic adviser for these sorts of things. The most interesting part of this system is the “What If” feature, which simulates a change of study instantly so that you can see what classes you’d need to take to complete a different major. It will also tell you what classes you’ve already taken would or would not count towards your possibly new degree. Further improvements will be made to course scheduling at UAB to eliminate overlapping classes. The option to book rooms on campus for meetings/studies via the internet will be available as well.
One-Stop Shop Will Add Additional Services
Again, not necessarily a new thing. If you aren’t familiar with the “One-Stop Shop” (formally known as the Blazer Enrollment Center), it is located in the HUC and allows students ease of access to services involving enrolling at UAB. This prevents students from having to run around trying to find everything they need to enroll in classes at UAB (class enrollment, billing, financial aid, etc.). The One-Stop Shop will be expanded this fall to include parking and campus card services. The addition of parking is a huge deal, as you used to have to go to the outskirts of campus to register for parking decals.
New UAB Campus Transit System
This could be the surprise of the entire presentation. With more students and more buildings for those students…getting around campus becomes more of a challenge. UAB officials hope for some of that to be eliminated by increasing on-campus housing and walkable areas (i.e. extending The Green to Railroad Park), but that doesn’t solely fix the issue. While many students will see the need of a new parking deck as the number one priority at the moment, it’s not necessarily in the cards for UAB right now. Sure, it’s definitely needed…but UAB wants the precious (and expensive) space that UAB has left close to campus to be for creating a more college-like experience for students. Here’s where the new UAB Campus Transit System will come in. Not only will it better connect the medical and undergraduate sides of UAB, it will also have routes to off-campus parking. Some students would say that isn’t good enough to solve parking issues…and they would be correct. The transit system is an important step to establish a successful UAB-owned transport line that can run to where, I assume, additional parking decks would eventually be built safely away from interfering with the campus life experience. The transit system will consist of an undetermined number of 50-passenger buses (decked out in UAB colors and branding) equipped with GPS and will be trackable via smart phone apps. This means that you don’t have to speculate on where the bus will be at a certain time or how close the bus is to you. You’ll be able to see your bus on a map and know exactly where it is in an instant. I can only speculate what additional features could be included…but I imagine the ability to see the current capacity of buses would be a nice one to have. The transit system will be available for all UAB students, faculty, and staff. Currently, UAB is working with the Solstice Transportation Group to design the overall system, routes, and create a Request for Proposal to take to potential companies to bid on the project. Past universities that Solstice Transportation Group has consulted for include LSU, the University of Alabama, and Princeton. UAB has a target date set for Fall 2013 for the launch of the new Campus Transit System.
New Student Health and Wellness Center
Due to the additional influx of students at UAB, the need to upgrade Student Health Services has arose. UAB’s plan to address this includes a new Student Health and Wellness Center in a centralized location on campus. The new Center will combine the current Student Health Center and Counseling & Wellness Center. It will offer a full service/coverage model for all UAB students with no office visit fees for sickness care. No target date was given for this project, but one of the major holdups seems to be finding an appropriate location for it that is convenient for students to get to.
New Residence Hall
As was mentioned previously, current student housing is over-capacity. The solution? Another residence hall. Several sites for the building are being considering and we know that it will be rather large…capable of holding 750+ beds. Not much else is known, but we expect to learn more this fall as UAB will be presenting it to the Board of Trustees in September for approval.
At UAB, there is a need to better spread out dining options on campus. Students will experience a couple of new options within the next year. ZeBi, short for Zest Bistro, will feature freshly made sandwiches, soups, etc (think Panera Bread). It will provide options for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. The restaurant was slated to open in the Business and Engineering Complex in time for the first week of fall classes in August, but it was stated during the presentation that it would be September-October of this year (Edit: UAB Dining has since confirmed on Twitter that ZeBi will launch August 13). The second major restaurant is a development I was quite surprised about as it has come together in a very short amount of time. Sodexo will open a WoW Cafe & Wingery (short for World of Wings) that will be located in the building directly across the street from Blount Hall (behind Snoozy’s). The restaurant will feature wings, burgers, and salads and will take meal plans (as well as normal currency). There are already four other WoW Cafe’s at Alabama universities: UNA, JSU, University of Montevallo, and Tuskegee University. The restaurant will serve lunch, dinner, and late-night and is targeted for a Fall 2013 launch. Volker Hall will also get a “Simply To Go” a la carte kiosk, which is what the BEC had until construction began on the new ZeBi restaurant.
After the presentation, the floor was opened for questions both from the Senate and the general forum present. Here are some tidbits of information that came from that:
When questioned about what changes could be made to prevent smoking directly outside of building entrances, President Carol Garrison responded emphatically, “We are actually trying to go to be a tobacco-free university.” While most of the UAB campus is already smoke-free, the university cannot regulate the sidewalks, as they are city property. UAB is working on that, too. “We are working with the city right now for them to be able to tell us that we have the ability to say ‘No Smoking’ on those sidewalks.” She then shared some personal insight by sharing the story of her 91-year-old mother, who has been bedridden and unable to move or talk for the last 5 years, as a result of smoking. When one of the senators asked about the students that are smokers and how they would feel about a smoke-free campus, Garrison did not back down. “We ought to do a little tour and have some of you come over, or some of the people that really want to continue to do this, and visit with some of the patients over at University Hospital who have throat cancer…who have had parts of their faces removed because of cancer of the tongue and of the mouth…or with the families who lost a father who perhaps was 40-years-old with young children.” Needless to say, everybody got the impression that the no-smoking policy was going to stick. UAB hopes to initiate the complete no-tobacco policy sometime this fall.
When asked about whether or not there were any updates to the On-Campus Stadium effort, President Garrison responded, “I think the Trustees have asked us really not to raise that issue, at least for a couple of years. They’ve asked us – they’ve really challenged us – to show that there’s a lot of support for the team.” She did address, however, what the next step in the process is. “I understand that this is a chicken and an egg sort of thing…that, you know, to a certain extent we said ‘if we build it, they will come’. On the other hand, they are saying ‘have them come, then maybe you can build it’.” Garrison reiterated that, although they worked very hard to make a feasible finance plan for the stadium, it is now time to work on getting people in the seats. She then complimented the two new head coaching hires of Garrick McGee and Jerod Haase and encouraged students to meet them at some of their meet and greet events that they’ll be doing in the fall.
See President Garrison respond to question regarding stadium here:
This issue has been raised for a long time, even before Carol Garrison was made President of UAB. Tonight, Greek Life got a glimpse of hope into Greek housing on campus. Garrison stated that the number one issue with Greek housing was financial liability. When asked about it Assistant Vice President for Student Life Andy Marsch said, “As part of this overall Housing Master Plan, it has not gotten lost in that discussion.” Garrison added, “I know our neighbors at Glen Iris would really love to see us put Greek housing somewhere on campus as opposed to “informal” Greek housing in their neighborhood.” Options for solving Greek housing issues included having specialty dorm floors or sequences of rooms for organizations.
What do you guys think about all these developments? Obviously, some of these still await approval from the Board of Trustees…but it’s still exciting stuff! What are you most excited about? What is missing from this discussion that you think should be a priority? We want to know!
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