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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Campus to be revitalized

In the upcoming months, Mercer University will see a drastic change to the center of its campus in an innovative revamping project headed by the President’s Office.
The plan was made possible by a significant donation from one of Mercer’s trustees, Milton L. Cruz, in the spring. Cruz addressed the problem of the closed road that runs through campus from Greek Village to the end of Tarver Library.
“We ended up hiring a landscape architect firm to help us plan. The president said that this is not the only place that we need to make changes to and  [we need to] look at a master plan of the interior of campus,” said Dr. James S. Netherton, executive vice president for Administration and Finance at Mercer University.
Currently, the plan is to completely redo Porter Patch, from the Connell Student Center, Tarver Library, the University Center, Sherwood and Mercer Hall Residences. Current concepts include taking out the street roads and putting in place transportation footpaths that would meet all students, faculty and staff needs for travelling across campus. A freeform shape that would present the buildings in the area would connect the paths.  The plaza would also lead off into intimate areas with surrounding water features.  The plan will maintain the large trees already on campus and include more greenery and garden space.
The bear statue that sits along the stairway to the University Center is also set to move to the plaza. The goal is to have the bear in a more prominent area where people would like to go, as the plaza would be the new center of campus.
“One of the things you want to try to do on a college campus is create spaces where students will want to linger, so you can sit down, you can visit with other students, hold outdoor classes and group meetings, and hopefully in the center of campus, accommodate special programs,” explains Dr. Netherton.
The Stetson School of Business building and Jack Tarver Library will see significant impact in the redesign. The plans call to create a plaza right in front of Stetson that will square up with the library on the second floor so that it is easily accessible.
“If we ever decide to have an outdoor graduation or outdoor convocation in the center of campus, the plaza out in front of Stetson would be the stage and the space in the middle would be where you could put up chairs,” said Dr. Netherton on the spaces future involvement on campus activities.
In recognition of Cruz’s donation the project is presently titled, “Cruz Plaza,” but is subject to change as proceedings continue.
The Plaza’s beginnings are still being worked out by a collaborative effort between President Underwood and members of his staff, the construction partner, and the architect.
“We’ve developed conceptual plans for really transforming the center of campus by making it more functional, more attractive and more in keeping with the rest of the campus,” said Dr. Netherton.
As for when the construction will begin, it is still undecided.
“That kind of work is going to really tear the campus up. It’s going to take a long time and we want to minimize the impact on the students and what we’ve got going on,” said Dr. Netherton.
The plan at present has the construction timeline beginning at the end of fall semester, which would roll over into spring, and finish up through the summer. The project is estimated to take eight months to complete, though which year the plaza will commence is up for discussion. At present, only computer generated images display what could be the new plaza, but no topographical surveys of the land have been completed to verify the plans.
“I don’t think we are going to be in a position to start it this December. That’s still a little bit up in the air, but it looks unlikely. If so, our plan would be to start construction in 2013 and have it finished in August of 2014,” explains Dr. Netherton.
Mercer’s campus has been adding and improving buildings and programs over the last few years and this plaza will contribute.
The construction is an effort to make the campus more functional for students and to appeal to potential undergraduates.
Dr. Netherton hopes that this will transform experiences on the interior of campus. “A different kind of learning goes on outside the classroom and I’ve always been a big believer in creating spaces where students and faculty can do things and where visitors of campus can interact with students and faculty. Sometimes in a totally unplanned way, really nice things happen. But those happen to a great degree based on whether or not you provide the space and the opportunity for those things to happen.”



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