Campus Transformation Plans Part of Centennial Legacy

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

Some citizens of Miner Nation got a sneak peek into the future of The University of Texas at El Paso campus during a July 23 presentation at UTEP that left many eager and impressed.

UTEP President Diana Natalicio used slides of colorful renderings to accentuate her descriptions of the planned transformation of the campus grounds during her afternoon presentation in the Geology Reading Room.UTEP President Diana Natalicio details the campus transformation projects to alumni, friends and members of the campus community. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceUTEP President Diana Natalicio details the campus transformation projects to alumni, friends and members of the campus community. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

About 150 University faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends watched and listened to plans to enhance the University’s outdoor public spaces. The campus transformation plan calls for a pedestrian environment throughout the core of the 420-acre campus. Many guests nodded in approval as President Natalicio called the transformation the legacy of the University’s 2014 Centennial Celebration.

“The campus transformation will create a vibrant campus climate for future generations of students who will entrust us with the fulfillment of their dreams and aspirations as we stride confidently into UTEP’s second century of distinguished service to this U.S.-Mexico border region,” she said.

The projects she mentioned – Centennial Plaza, the Lhakhang, Leech Grove, University Avenue Eastern Gateway, The Arroyo, Miner Alley, Old Main/Circle Drive, Union West, Psychology Building, Hawthorne Street and Wiggins Road – will transform the institution into a national model of campus design to include limited vehicle traffic.

After the presentation, the luncheon guests spoke of the thoughtfulness behind the plan and said they looked forward to seeing the “new” campus.

“This plan is outstanding,” said an energized Robert C. “Bob” Heasley after the presentation. He is a 1953 graduate of Texas Western College (now UTEP) and a member of the University’s Development Board. President Natalicio noted his support and investment in the project. “To see how the University plans to redo this campus is just wonderful. I especially like the idea of keeping autos off campus and using the campus’ natural vegetation and geological features. I can’t wait to see it.”

The design, created by award-winning architectural firms Lake/Flato and Ten Eyck, weaves walkways, campus trails, bike paths and green spaces that improve safety and invite opportunities to study, relax and collaborate. The plans incorporate subsurface irrigation, rainwater harvesting and other “green” techniques that will conserve water and lower utility bills.

The parking spaces that will be eliminated from inner campus streets have already been replaced with new spaces in the Schuster Parking Garage and a new surface lot on Sun Bowl Drive, for a net gain of 582 parking spaces in the last two years. All buildings on campus and the new exterior spaces will have ADA accessible paths to and from ADA parking. 

The plans showed a lot of “deep thinking,” said Ambassador Lhatu Wangchuck, permanent representative of the Kingdom of Bhutan to the United Nations. He was part of a Bhutanese contingent who attended the lhakhang groundbreaking earlier in the day.

“I can see the effort to incorporate the multiple cultures that make up this institution,” he said after the lunch presentation. “The purpose of any university is to embrace its cultures and use it to educate its children. If its heart is not in the right place, as it is at UTEP, the opportunity is lost.”

University leaders estimate that the projects will cost up to $25 million. While there are funds for the Hawthorne and Wiggins projects, the rest of the funding will be raised through the $200 million Centennial Campaign that was announced in 2010.

The project renderings unveiled July 23 should increase the number of donations for the projects, said Ed Escudero, co-chair of the 2014 Commission, a group of 100 University and community representatives who are helping to plan Centennial commemorations.

“The visual depictions generate the excitement. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp the concept without them,” said the 1992 UTEP graduate as he stood among several renderings in the hallway outside the reading room after the event. “These should make it easier to try to attract (financial) gifts.”

Donations can be sent to the UTEP Campus Transformation Fund at https://alumni.utep.edu/transformation.

The projects are:

Centennial Plaza

The center of campus will feature a new Centennial Plaza bordered by the Union, Geological Sciences, Psychology and Administration buildings. This large space will be created by eliminating streets and parking lots and the vehicular traffic they support, and recapturing the beauty of the unique rock structures and natural arroyos that will be exposed once the pavement is stripped away. Centennial Plaza will include a large open area reminiscent of urban plazas located across the Paso del Norte region and in Mexico, where residents congregate and celebrate life. A paseo for strolling, socializing and relaxing, or for studying with classmates and friends, will be shaded by groves of native mesquite trees. This expansive and versatile green space at the heart of the UTEP campus will become an oasis for campus and community events, a haven for artists, thinkers and writers, and an ideal venue as an outdoor classroom.

Lhakhang

In 2008, a beautiful hand-carved and hand-painted lhakhang, the centerpiece of Bhutan's participation in the Smithsonian Institution's Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., was presented by the people of Bhutan to the people of the United States for permanent installation on the UTEP campus. This beautiful little building's presence on our campus underscores UTEP's strong ties to Bhutan and our mission to expand the global perspective of our students. The lhakhang will be located at the northwest edge of Centennial Plaza between Magoffin Auditorium and the Geological Sciences Building.

Leech Grove

Leech Grove has a special place in the hearts of most UTEP students, past and present. Capitalizing on its central campus location, student organizations have gathered here for many years, conducting activities to recruit members, raise funds, entertain and educate their fellow students about current issues. Leech Grove honors the memory of R. Milton Leech, a UTEP faculty member in Theatre Arts who also served as vice president and acting president. A terrace of native greenery and flowering plants will frame the desert garden knoll on the Grove's eastern edge, and a fountain at the Grove's center will double as another stage for performances. The broad canopy of trees, for which this space is well known, will continue to provide ample shade over stone seating elements and lawn areas, and ensure that Leech Grove will remain one of the most appealing gathering places on the UTEP campus.

The Arroyo

The arroyo, which cuts through UTEP from Miner Village on the northeastern edge to the College of Business Administration at the southwestern corner, is a unifying natural feature of the campus, and serves to link the campus to our surrounding neighborhoods. Its natural beauty will be enhanced with the addition of new bridges, overlooks and landscaping. New pathways and seating areas will encourage walking, bicycling and other outdoor activity both within the campus itself and as the campus connects with planned neighborhood developments in such areas as Arroyo Park. Innovative design concepts will capture water to replenish the plant and wildlife that call the arroyo home, and help support the year-round beauty of this natural desert feature. Rainwater harvesting and other responsible water-use techniques will also be used to reduce UTEP's maintenance and utility costs.

Miner Alley

This long walkway, extending from the southern end of Sun Bowl Stadium to University Avenue, is surrounded on the west by the Sun Bowl parking garage and the UTEP Bookstore and on the east by the Fox Fine Arts Center and Hudspeth, Worrell and Miners halls. Students, faculty and staff who now use it exclusively for passage on campus will soon find an inviting place for studying, relaxation and conversation with friends among the shaded gathering spaces that will create the microclimate of a desert canyon. Trees and dense Chihuahuan Desert vegetation, including attractive flowering plants, will create a full, lush environment abounding in foliage and color.

Hawthorne Street

Hawthorne Street between Rim Road and University Avenue will become a major pedestrian walkway with the addition of broader sidewalks accentuated with lighting, landscaping, benches and a large canopy of drought-resistant shade trees such as Chinese pistache and red oak. Niche-like parks will be tucked under slatted canopy structures that offer additional shady locations for students, faculty, staff and visitors to stop and relax.

Wiggins Road

The space in front of the University Library, and including Wiggins Road, will be transformed into a multilevel plaza that incorporates the striking entrance to the Health Sciences and Nursing Building. Shade trees, curving benches and solar lighting will invite walkers to take time to explore a unique labyrinth of desert plantings and natural stone paths.

Old Main/Circle Drive

Old Main, UTEP's most historic building, was the first to be completed when the University (then known as the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy) moved to our present campus site in 1917. The elegance and dignity of this historic building will be provided the serene setting it deserves when Circle Drive is replaced with an inviting pedestrian concourse that opens onto a park extending south to the Psychology Building and east to Vowell Hall and the Education Building. In addition to native plants and rock outcrops, this space will incorporate a decorative water feature.

University Avenue Eastern Gateway

The new Bhutanese-style pedestrian overpass on Sun Bowl Drive, together with the "Mining Minds" sculpture in the roundabout at the intersection of Sun Bowl Drive and University Avenue, serve as spectacular landmarks at the western gateway to the UTEP campus. We plan now to create another major — and distinctively beautiful — campus entrance landmark at the eastern gateway for those who approach campus on University Avenue from Oregon and Mesa streets. The new gateway will feature a portal spanning the street, a bridge that crosses the arroyo, and a car/pedestrian plaza located near the bridge for easy passenger loading and unloading. Trees will line University Avenue from the campus's eastern entrance to the Oregon Street intersection.

Psychology Building

With the creation of the new Centennial Plaza, the venerable Psychology Building's location at the Plaza's northern edge will give it far greater prominence as a campus landmark. How fitting then that it too should get a facelift! Shaded pavilions and terraces will link the Psychology Building to Centennial Plaza, creating new and unique spaces for outdoor campus events and activities, as well as for solitary or group study and informal conversations.

Union Building West

The Union Building plays a central role in creating a campus community. It is a destination for breakfast, lunch and dinner, for meetings, film festivals, pep rallies and public events. The courtyard at the west entrance of Union Building West will be converted into a shaded patio with the addition of a column-supported trellis arbor. This new gathering space, which will overlook Centennial Plaza, will accommodate such organized activities as Minerpalooza as well as informal gatherings of students, faculty and staff.

To learn more about the campus transformation plans, visit campus.utep.edu.