Last Thursday morning, the Picket sat down with Dean Dow Benedict to talk about the Shepherd University Master Plan. This document details all of the proposed campus renovations in the next ten years.
“In the State of West Virginia,” Benedict explained, “…in order to carry out any campus projects with state funds, you must have [the projects] in your master plan,”
One of the most requested campus changes is more parking, said Benedict. “A traffic study was recently done which shows we have enough parking,” Benedict said, “there are always empty spots in H-lot, but students who have class on east campus don’t want to walk all that distance for parking. The best place for a parking garage would be A-lot,”
The traffic study confirms that a parking garage on A-lot would be the most efficient solution. A close second is the hill behind Ram Stadium where Sara Cree Hall currently sits. The master plan calls for the demolition of Sara Cree, and the placement of a new parking garage in its place.The parking garage would be accessible directly from Maryland Route 34/West Virginia Route 480, as well as from east campus. A new student center would be built around the North and West sides of the garage, to make it highly visible from the main roads into campus.
“I’ve been pushing for a new Student Center for a long time,” Benedict said. “It would really help to attract new students and give the University a prominent ‘front door.’” Additionally, new ‘Shepherd University’ signs would be posted at the main entrances to campus.
Plans for a parking garage and new Student Center are in the works. However, construction is not projected to begin until 2022.
“The biggest problem right now,” said Benedict “is the lack of funds. Without money, nothing can happen.”
The Dean went on to say that the school only receives approximately $250 per year in profit from the tuition of each in-state student. “Most of the money for Shepherd’s campus projects comes from the State of West Virginia and endowments from private individuals,” Benedict explained, “but many states are cutting funding for higher education, and the economic downturn has affected private donations.”
One central goal of the master plan is to more fully integrate east and west campus. “We know that east campus is considered the center of Shepherd,” Benedict said, “but we want to continue developing west campus so that east campus isn’t so congested.”
Benedict said that there are serious issues with the flow of traffic and pedestrians through the University and surrounding areas, as well as overcrowding of the east campus facilities. “We’re trying to make the campus feel more connected,” said Benedict. “We want to delineate the University from the town and improve traffic flow through landscaping.”
The master plan describes 50 projects and improvements, with 36 slated for groundbreaking in the next nine years. It also carries a price tag of approximately $139 million for the first 36 projects, and approximately $122 million for the last 14.
“It is an ambitious plan,” Benedict said, “but if we don’t lay it all out, we may end up in the position of receiving money but not being able to use it.”
This has happened before. “About 15 years ago,” Benedict said, “we were given a large sum of money. Unfortunately, the master plan had not been updated, and so there was very little we could do with it.”
The money ended up being used to renovate Ram Stadium, which was not what the University had wanted to do, said Benedict. “Over on west campus, near the athletic fields, is a natural bowl in the earth,” explained Benedict. “We had wanted to move the stadium there and create an athletic complex. There would be more room for parking and it would have freed up the real estate occupied by the stadium, where we wanted to put a new Student Center.”
The Dean said that he is still lobbying for a new Student Center, and is optimistic about the future of the University. “The master plan we have drawn up is very comprehensive,” he said, “the panel included students, faculty, staff, administrators, and members of the community.”
Benedict remains realistic though. “We have an excellent plan,” he said, “but nothing happens without money.”