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Red River College Embarks on Campus Master Plan Process

April 4, 2013

Red River College is about to embark on an ambitious campus master planning process, one that aims to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Notre Dame Campus, and through collaboration with students, staff and faculty, arrive at a solution to the problems identified.

Following a request for proposals last year, RRC has selected Boston-based Sasaki Associates Inc., working together with Winnipeg’s Dillon Consulting Ltd., to carry out a three-phase planning process that’s scheduled to conclude this fall.

Sasaki has worked on master plans for more than 500 campuses, and recently completed a proposal for Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, the oldest community college in the United States. Bryan Irwin, a principal at the firm who’s working with fellow partner Dan Kelly, recently responded to some questions on the topic of the master plan.

Red River College: What exactly is a campus master plan?

Bryan Irwin: It’s a comprehensive road map for the College that links the strategic academic plan – what is it we’re teaching, and to whom — with the physical facilities of the campus. It requires looking well into the future, 10 or 15 years, and asking, “What are the reasonable projections we can make, and how can we right-size the campus facilities to best support the strategic vision of the College?”

…Everyone would agree Red River College has done a phenomenal job meeting the needs of the community and offering the courses that are required to support and catalyze the economy. But in so doing, they have made incremental decisions over a period of time that were based on expediency. Now the College wants to reassess that situation and look at how they might better use the existing space.

How does the planning process unfold?

We think of it as a three-phase process. The first phase, which we’re in now, is what you might call data collection or discovering the issues. That’s where we come on campus, talk to a lot of people — to students, to various departments, and to senior administrators. We do a lot of listening — what do they think the issues are? What works well on campus and what doesn’t?

At the same time we’re looking at buildings from a physical point of view: How well are the buildings holding up? Are their fundamental issues physically, or in terms of construction? (We also) work a lot with the registrar’s office, to look at how you’re using your existing spaces, the number of courses offered on campus, the number of classes used, whether they’re the right size, and whether you’re using your spaces efficiently.

…Once we understand what those issues are, in the second phase we begin to test solutions. We come to campus with a lot of thoughts and a lot of alternatives and people pick and choose. They might say, “This a really dumb idea, but this part of that idea is really clever, so let’s pair it with this other alternative from over there.” By the time we get to the end of the second phase we have a rough idea of the solution to the problems identified in the first phase.

The third phase is about fleshing out that idea — taking that one idea that we all agreed upon and polishing it up. Where you hope to eventually get with a campus master plan is a place where the plan has a sense of inevitability to it. And by that I mean everyone looks at it and says, “Oh, of course. That’s the perfect solution, that’s exactly what we should be doing.” The other thing you hope for is that everybody thinks it was their idea — that there’s a consensus around these plans. You don’t want one without the other … you want everyone to be excited about the vision.

What was your initial assessment of the campus?

One of the issues we sensed from Day One just walking around campus, and which is beginning to be borne out in the discovery process, is there aren’t enough social spaces and informal, collaborative study spaces on campus to support the students. You have a lot of corridors and a lot of hallways and it’s a little bewildering how you move from one end of the campus to another … But where’s the heart of the campus? Where’s the spot where, whether I’m in the vocational trades or nursing or general studies, I can go to this spot and know I’m in the middle of things? I don’t feel you have that kind of space on campus and I sense students are looking for spaces that allow them to study collaboratively with other students, and to create a sense of community on campus.

The situation with Red River College is actually fascinating because the students and the faculty lead very busy lives. Some students might have one or two part-time jobs, some are single parents, and so on. The idea of Red River College, not only in term of its course offerings but also its facilities, has to be able to support those complicated lives. I think it’s clear some fine-tuning needs to take place to make that happen.

Will the Master Plan also incorporate communal spaces for staff?

Staff and faculty, yes. You have the exact same issues with faculty and staff, so you want to create community among faculty and staff just as strongly as you do with the students.

We assume it’s too early for a ruling on the rumoured soccer pitch, but is it safe to say athletics will play a part in the planning process?

Absolutely. It’s clear, especially at RRC, that athletics and recreation can and should play a stronger role in the life of the College.

How will staff and students be involved?

There will be a number of targeted workshops. We’re actually working through some of those procedural issues now. And we’re releasing surveys to students, faculty and staff. (Ed. note: the first round of the surveys went out this week.)

Will parking issues be addressed?

Parking is critical.

What about sustainability?

Sustainability is going to embedded in the entire scheme.

What will happen to vacated spaces as the new Skilled Trades Centre is built?

Literally all options are on the table with regards to the Skilled Trades Centre. We’ve only begun to look at that, and there are no preconceived notions of what we should be doing with that space.

Is there a proposed location for the new Skilled Trades Centre?

To be determined!

Currently, Red River College leases the Notre Dame Campus from the province. Will the issue of ownership have any impact on the planning process?

Our opinion is that doesn’t seem to be an issue; that seems to be more of bureaucratic aspect. But it doesn’t seem to limit us in defining a vision.

How will decaying infrastructure be addressed?

The Master Plan will have a section that addresses the state of infrastructure on campus?

Is it your plan to maintain the current, largely underground layout of the campus?

Certainly there’s a practicality to the underground circulation, given your wintertime conditions, but I don’t think it should be an either/or condition. We’ve already been discussing ways that you could circulate underground but where you don’t necessarily have to feel like you’re underground. How can we open up those spaces a bit more? Likewise, when you enter the campus there’s really no front door — you just sort of stumble onto campus and go down the tunnel to the underground. But it seems to me there ought to be a way to make that a more gracious and ennobling experience.

Click here for more information on the Campus Master Plan.