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A variety of planning initiatives will have broad implications for Transylvania in the years ahead

by William A. Bowden

Campus planning and long-range strategic thinking are underway that will have far-reaching effects for Transylvania in the years to come. Although many of the details have yet to be formulated, there is consensus that this is a pivotal time for the university as it seeks to grow and progress in its liberal arts mission.

It’s all part of a drive to enhance Transylvania’s national reputation and secure its standing as one of the nation’s finest liberal arts colleges.

“We are all part of a universe that operates on two gears—forward and backward,” President R. Owen Williams said. “There is no neutral. If you try to stand still, you are effectively going backwards. In today’s higher education world, the notion of simply surviving is not enough. You have to thrive in order to be a meaningful player.”

The Strategic Planning Committee of the Board of Trustees, the Quality Enhancement Plan submitted as part of the university’s recent reaffirmation of accreditation, a Strategic Enrollment Plan, and a new physical campus plan being devised are all pieces of the intricate planning puzzle. Taken together, they will create a larger, more diverse, and more attractive Transylvania poised to provide new opportunities for many generations of Transylvania students to come.

Williams alluded to many of these themes in his presidential inaugural address in April 2011 when he envisioned a rise in enrollment of several hundred students, a more robust endowment, a campus dedicated to sustainable practices, and a more international student body, faculty, and curriculum. The planning now underway focuses on those ideas while shaping the vision of the campus for the next 20 years.

Hard at work

Williams has appointed a 15-person Campus Planning Committee consisting of board members, faculty, staff, students, and alumni. While the committee will benefit from the input of a professional design firm, Williams stressed the role of the Transylvania community in reimagining the campus.

“Campus planning will be done by Transylvanians,” Williams said. “Our outside firm will serve as consultants. They will provide their planning services according to our specifications.”

Sasaki Associates in Boston, an interdisciplinary firm that employs more than 270 professionals, will work with Transylvania to create a campus plan to be presented to the board. The firm was founded in 1953 and is known for grounding its recommendations within the cultural, historical, geographical, environmental, social, and economic contexts of its clients.

Anthropology professor Barbara LoMonaco, a committee member, said that representatives from Sasaki have already provided the members with information the firm gathered on a fact-finding visit.

“The working relationship between Sasaki and the planning committee is a dynamic one, where we offer input and they help us translate that into realistic projects that match our vision,” LoMonaco said. “In the end, we will come up with something that is practical, that draws on existing resources, and encompasses all aspects of design—environmental sustainability, transportation, landscaping, renovation, new construction, and placement of facilities.”

As a faculty member, LoMonaco feels a special kinship with ideas the committee is considering that will create more locations where both formal classes and informal encounters can enrich the very personal nature of the learning experience at Transylvania.

“We need a campus whose physical character promotes our values as a university,” she said. “Students identify more shared public spaces—patios, green spaces with tables, outdoor learning environments—as a priority. I imagine living and learning spaces that foster greater social interaction and integration, along with a connection to nature.”

Since Transylvania does not have the luxury of hundreds of acres of land from which to fashion large-scale natural settings, a premium has always been placed on making the most of the green spaces that are available. More of that kind of thinking will be needed to help Transylvania in its transformation into a top-tier college.

“If we want to be one of the top colleges in the country—and that is a very achievable goal—we have to plan our campus accordingly,” Williams said.

William T. Young Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees, echoed those thoughts when he said, “We need to make the campus and everything that it offers as attractive as it can possibly be.”

Fourth Street property

A key piece of the campus expansion picture recently fell into place when the university purchased a 10-acre plot of land along Fourth Street that is just a block away from the current western edge of campus. The land is envisioned as the home of new athletics facilities for men’s and women’s outdoor  intercollegiate sports, as well as recreational and intramural use.

“The idea is for this new site to serve a multitude of purposes that include varsity sports but also offer more recreational opportunities for students, faculty, and staff,” said Jack Ebel ’77, director of athletics. “It will function much like the Beck Center, which is a lively place for all levels of athletics and fitness activities.”

That projected use is the focus of the first phase of campus planning. Consolidating many sports on the new site will free up current athletics areas, such as Thomas Field, that can be repurposed as classroom and/or residence space, which will occur in later phases.

Young said acquisition of the Fourth Street property was an opportunistic success that opens up new possibilities for many aspects of campus expansion.

“When that land became available so close to our campus, we figured that if we didn’t jump on it, someone else would,” Young said. “Before that purchase, we really had no additional land available for any type of use. So it gives us options and flexibility we didn’t previously have.

“Transylvania has a huge advantage in being located in the middle of a city like Lexington, but at the same time we have the disadvantage of not having easy access to additional land as some other schools do. Having this new land is important to our future.”

Marc Mathews ’80, vice president for finance and business, feels the property acquisition is a “game changer.”

“Expansion ideas require us to look beyond the land we currently have,” he said. “At times, our hopes have been tied off because we are landlocked. We don’t want our dreams to be bound by the current geographic layout of the campus.”

Development of the new Fourth Street property will draw Transylvania more into its surrounding neighborhoods. A key element of the success of the new planning is to create an avenue of movement from the university’s current campus down Fourth Street and across Jefferson Street to the new property.

“We’re discussing how to create an inviting ‘spine’ down Fourth Street that connects the new with the old,” LoMonaco said. “We want to be good neighbors and stewards of the new areas that our students will traverse.”

Excitement in the air

Implementation of the plans now being discussed will occur over the next several years, with the first phase focusing on creation of the new athletics complex. Succeeding phases will look at residential and academic projects, along with landscaping considerations.

The visionary aspect of the planning, however, has already sparked interest and excitement from all areas of the Transylvania community.

Norwood “Buddy” Cowgill ’65, a Transylvania trustee, has seen such excitement in the past, especially when he and his wife, Judy King Cowgill ’64, provided the lead gift for the Cowgill Business, Economics, and Education Center, which opened in 1999. He’s now serving on the campus planning committee.

“I have no doubt that the next 10 years will be one of the most exciting times in Transylvania’s rich history,” he said. “President Williams, with the full support of the board, will lead the university into a period of unparalleled progress.”

Ebel has been part of Transylvania since coming to the college as a first-year student in 1973. He sees the current planning in a historical context.

“I think this expansion and improvement plan has the potential to be the most transformative thing for the university in the past 100 years,” he said. “It’s going to be a very fascinating time to be around Transylvania.”

Added LoMonaco:

“This is an incredibly stimulating time for Transylvania. It’s an opportunity for our campus to take a big step forward and to grow into our potential. The campus plan will reflect our investment in cultivating intellectual curiosity and exploration.”

Senior Josh Edge, president of the Student Government Association, serves on the board’s Strategic Planning Committee. He feels that extension of the campus down Fourth Street will continue a trend for Transylvania students to relate to their neighbors.

“What’s unique about Transylvania is that we live in an urban area,” he said. “Students in general want to go out into the community and engage in the kind of dialogues made possible by that sort of environment.”

Junior Sarah Tipton serves on the campus planning committee and is looking forward to the environmental aspects of new facilities.

“Sustainability is a huge thing for me,” she said. “I hope we can reduce our carbon footprint with any new buildings while ensuring they’re aesthetically pleasing as well. I think we’re doing a great thing by buying up more land and broadening our reach. Everything that’s happening is so exciting.”

Through it all, Williams has pledged to maintain the focus on Transylvania’s traditional values as a small liberal arts college devoted to personal attention to learning.

“The growth will happen in a controlled fashion that preserves the intimacy and sense of belonging that are so important to Transylvania,” he said. “The intimacy of the Transylvania experience is something we will maintain at all costs.”

Big plans call for big support

Transylvania is dreaming big with its plans for campus expansion and enhancement of its national reputation. Along with those dreams come big opportunities for donors to have a profound and lasting impact on the quality of education offered at the university.

“The university is thinking large-scale with the purchase of the Fourth Street property and plans for improving the residential and academic facilities,” said Kara Little Covert ’90, associate vice president for advancement. “We hope our potential supporters will also be bold and dream big.”

Kirk Purdom, vice president for advancement, sees the recent land acquisition as a turning point for Transylvania.

“We have been in this same footprint for so long,” he said. “Being able to purchase this land just one block away from our campus is incredible. I think it will change the future of Transylvania profoundly.”

Just as the details of campus expansion are being studied, so, too, are the exact funding requirements that will become necessary to put the plans into action. Still, the time is now for members of the greater Transylvania community to consider the various roles that each can play in this project.

William T. Young Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees, pointed to the underlying financial picture as critical to the progress the university envisions.

“That’s what I would see as the key, just having the financial resources to accomplish our goals,” he said. “We probably need to double the size of our endowment.”

As an alumna, Covert feels a special connection to this important time in Transylvania’s history.

“There are certain moments in Transylvania’s past that have been crucial to the life of the university,” she said. “I truly believe this is one of those pivotal moments. What we do over the next few years will impact the entire future of the college. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than helping to facilitate that at my alma mater.”

President R. Owen Williams believes all alumni will be able to relate to the ambitious goals of campus expansion and reputation enhancement.

“There are many things we are doing that alumni will care about,” he said. “We invite them to participate in the process of enhancing campus life at Transylvania. We welcome their ideas and their financial support.”

For more information on supporting Transylvania, contact Purdom or Covert in the development office at (800) 487-2679.

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