New campus master plan to guide development over next 50 years

With the campus in the midst of a $1 billion capital improvement program, the university has adopted a new physical master plan that looks 50 years into the future. The plan matches academic vision with facilities to strengthen a sense of community and enhance the campus's beauty.

Chancellor Robert C. Holub said, "UMass Amherst has changed and grown over the past century and half, from 50 students at its founding to more than 27,000 today. To be successful and realize our current goals, we must continue to meet future challenges with a strong physical framework and a flourishing culture of planning. Our new master plan accomplishes those strategic goals."

"This plan establishes a shared vision for future development," said director of Campus Planning Dennis Swinford. "The administration held more than 90 events in the past year with key stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, our host communities and regional representatives and that was complemented by web-based surveys and applications to encourage participation."

Swinford said the process "created an exciting future for the campus," culminating in a vision that features new open spaces; streets redesigned to emphasize multiple modes of transportation and pedestrian safety; parking decks built on the edge of campus; new bikeways; new circulation systems including pathways with striking views of the Pioneer Valley; improvements to utilities; and a strategy to reuse historic buildings including renovation of South College.

To meet the university's current academic and research mission, the plan locates more than 1 million gross square feet of facilities. In an effort to position the university for an unknown future, the plan also illustrates approximately 7 million additional gross square feet, creating a compact, environmentally sensitive and efficient campus.

The plan adopts an approach that mixes traditional land uses around a core of facilities adjacent to the campus lawns and pond. This new pattern will encourage a creative environment that will support collaboration, co-curricular learning and research, Swinford said, and it will help create a vibrant environment all day and throughout the year. The more "compact/urban environment" in the campus core will also support the campus's sustainability agenda by promoting shared resources, walking and the careful use of land.

The heart of the plan, Swinford said, is to create a sense of place by designing a unique, cohesive physical character for the campus. "Through thoughtful siting of new buildings for classrooms, housing, administration and research, the master plan illustrates how we can build a world class, campus open-space," he said. "The system will consist of new pedestrian paths, view corridors, courts, quads and complete streets that will create spaces to be remembered and cherished by visitors, by students who spend four years here, or faculty and staff who invest a professional lifetime at UMass."

The campus has a long tradition of campus planning that dates back to 1866 and the first plan for the campus by Frederick Law Olmsted. The most recent master plan was adopted in 1993 and updated in 2007. The campus embarked on a 10-year, $1 billion capital improvement program in 2004, setting the stage for re-visioning the campus's future.

Eras and circumstances change in greatly unexpected ways, and Swinford said it's imperative to return to this campus master plan regularly, to assess and revise it as needed. That's why the participation and debates of the past year were so important. "To be successful today and in the future, we must have a flourishing culture of planning, and this process was vital in creating that foundation."