Campus Enhancement Projects Kick into High Gear

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

Work is expected to begin next week on Wiggins Plaza, another of the Campus Transformation projects that will make the campus more picturesque and pedestrian friendly.

The four-month project that is scheduled to start March 15 will involve the creation of a circular plaza, shade trees, natural stone paths, a unique elliptical labyrinth, and narrow tree-lined roads to accommodate limited vehicular traffic. Construction fencing will block Wiggins Road in front of the University Library but the library and the Health Sciences and Nursing Building will remain accessible.

Greg McNicol, associate vice president for facilities services, describes the Wiggins Plaza project to Catie McCorry-Andalis, associate vice president and dean of students. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceGreg McNicol, associate vice president for facilities services, describes the Wiggins Plaza project to Catie McCorry-Andalis, associate vice president and dean of students. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

“If it improves the University, I’m all for it,” said Ernie Avila, a member of the tech support staff who works in the University Library.

The plaza is among the projects that will impact UTEP students, faculty and staff, and campus visitors during the next three months; longer in some cases. While work is all but finished on the enhancements to Hawthorne Street, the prep work has just started for the planned Centennial Plaza. The exterior of the lhakhang on the Geology Lawn should be completed soon and contractors are expected to start work in UTEP’s Rudolph lot later in the semester.

Greg McNicol, associate vice president for facilities services, recently visited the Wiggins Plaza site to describe the project’s parameters and share the possible impact on pedestrians and commuters. The work is part of the University’s transformation plan to create a safer campus that accommodates pedestrians and bicyclists and limits vehicular traffic to service and emergency vehicles.

“The (Wiggins) plaza will become another of the University’s destination points,” he said. “We will try to get people to enjoy the (library) and the area around it.”

McNicol said contractors will set up fences to block Wiggins Road in front of the library while allowing access to the red IC-4 and orange IC-20 surface lots. The first phase involves re-landscaping the front of the library, which will remain accessible to pedestrians throughout the two-month project.

Pedestrians initially will be able to use the sidewalk in front of the Health Sciences and Nursing Building, but that will change around April 15, when the fences will enclose the sidewalk in front of the HSN Building where the labyrinth will be built. The project is expected to be done July 31. 

Sophomore education major Andrea Saenz said she enjoys the grassy area in front of the library and regularly uses the adjacent benches. She is happy with the makeover because it will make crossing Wiggins safer.

“I think the new design will improve the image of the library and the University,” she said. “It’s a positive thing.”    

Here is an update on the other projects:

  • The makeover along the roughly quarter mile stretch of Hawthorne Street is almost completed, including the planting of the flamed red sumac trees in the large, round planters. Today the street boasts broader sidewalks, enhanced lighting and landscaping, benches, niche-like parks, and what will become large drought-resistant shade trees. Work began in December 2011.
  • Work on the interior of the reconstructed lhakhang, a Bhutanese cultural artifact on the Geology Lawn, should begin later this month. Contractors began to work on the building’s foundation in July 2012. The hand-carved and hand-painted structure was a gift to the people of the United States from the people of Bhutan. It originally was built for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., in 2008.
  • Work  started March 1 on an access road that will be built in preparation for the planned Centennial Plaza. The plaza project should break ground in May 2013.  The project will include a large open area that could be used for campus and community events. It will be surrounded by a paseo shaded by native mesquite trees. This will initiate the closure of the inner campus to most vehicle traffic. The plaza is expected to be completed by fall 2014.
  • The Texas Department of Transportation plans to begin work in spring 2013 on the $55 million Spur 1966 project. The bridge will connect Paisano Drive near the Yandell overpass to Schuster Avenue at a raised 160-foot diameter roundabout. It will span more than a half mile over several sets of railroad tracks and Interstate 10, and take about two years to complete. TxDOT also plans to widen Sun Bowl Drive from the Don Haskins Center to the Sun Bowl Parking Garage starting in August.

“Both projects (Spur 1966 and Sun Bowl Drive) will provide better mobility to the University and the area’s medical facilities,” said Eddie Valtier, TxDOT director of transportation, planning and development. Valtier, who earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering from UTEP in 1992, said the new designs were necessary to offset the area’s increased traffic demands, especially during special events.